Nanny accused of 'experiment' on nut allergy child is cleared of all charges

By Melvyn Howe,Sarah Cade
Tuesday 05 November 2002 01:00

An Australian nanny accused of feeding a peanut butter sandwich to a boy with a suspected nut allergy was yesterday cleared of cruelty.

The court heard the toddler was taken to hospital fighting for breath and covered in a rash. A doctor said he probably owed his life to his mother's prompt decision to give him anti-histamine medication.

Michelle Brittain, 24, was also accused of severely burning a baby girl's hand against an oven door months earlier.

But the professionally qualified child carer told Southwark Crown Court in south London that she was the victim of a "bandwagon" conspiracy.

She was unable to hide her relief as the foreman read out a string of unanimous not guilty verdicts after just over two hours' deliberations.

As she sobbed noisily into her hands, she was acquitted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to the one-year-old girl in October 1999, and then cleared of an alternative count of cruelty.

She was also found innocent of a further charge of cruelty involving the boy. Neither youngster can be named for legal reasons.

As soon as Judge Christopher Elwen told her she could leave the dock, Brittain, of East Sheen, south-west London, walked into the well of the court and collapsed into the arms of her mother, Penny.

Her two-week trial heard she arrived in the UK in March 1999, after a successful telephone interview with a Hertfordshire family looking for a nanny for their daughter.

All went well for six months, until the mother came home one afternoon to be told that her child had "rubbed" her hand against the oven. The truth, claimed prosecutor Sally Howes, was that the defendant, in a fit of temper, deliberately forced the back of the girl's hand against the cooker.

But Brittain told the jury the first she knew that anything was wrong was when the youngster cried out in pain.

The jury was told the peanut butter sandwich incident occurred one week into a new job the following year.

Miss Howes suggested the nanny had already grown weary of the extra burden of looking after an allergic child, and accused her of conducting a "dangerous experiment".

Outside court the parents of both children said they were "tremendously disappointed" with the outcome of the case.

A short time later, Brittain, from Sanctuary Cove near Brisbane, Queensland, stood next to her solicitor, Alan Burcombe, as he read a statement on her behalf.

"My client has maintained her innocence to all the charges throughout," he said. "The last 15 months have been an horrendous ordeal for her, and all she would ask is that she be allowed to get on with her life."