Re A and B (Children)  EWHC B22 (Fam)
Care proceedings had been issued following fractures sustained by the child “B” in 2010, for which the mother was subsequently found to be responsible. An assessment of the family was undertaken in a residential unit and during the assessment, child C was born, but died at age 10 weeks. The “triad” was present at death. Extensive enquiries were undertaken and 12 different medical experts instructed to comment on the cause and nature of C’s injuries. Two medical opinions emerged- one which concluded that non-accidental injury was the “leading possibility” for cause of death, and the other which concluded that C’s skull was so unusual that it was simply not possible to say how it would have reacted to any level of force applied.
Following the death of C, A and B had been removed into foster care. While the proceedings were ongoing, and as increasing medical evidence emerged relating to C, the Guardian supported A and B being either returned to the parents or to placements in the extended family. Following a report by an Independent Social Worker, B was placed with her paternal grandparents and A was subsequently returned to the care of her mother and the father of B and C.
In around 2011, B had sustained a scratch and bruising to a bony prominence on her face when she was around 1 year old. A s.47 investigation undertaken at the time found that concerns about the cause being non-accidental were not substantiated. However, following the death of C, this injury was revisited and two medics concluded that it could be non-accidental.
A fact-finding hearing had been listed to take place for 5 weeks during the early part of this year. However, following receipt of all medical evidence and an experts’ meeting involving all medical professionals and two of the Coroner’s experts, the Local Authority, supported by the parents and the Guardian, sought determination of 3 issues: its application to withdraw the fact findings hearing in relation to the death of C on the basis that, whatever the outcome, it would be seeking to return both children to the care of their parents; guidance from the Court in respect of whether to have a fact finding hearing on causation of the bruising to B; and arrangements for a final welfare hearing.
The Court held that the Local Authority should be permitted to withdraw. The medical evidence in the case, and in particular the divergence of medical opinion, suggested that it must be approached with caution and there were good welfare reasons as to why a fact finding might be unnecessary or undesirable.
The Court expressed the view that a finding of fact hearing in relation to the bruising to B would be disproportionate, unnecessary and unjustifiable.
In relation to welfare, the Judge set out that there was no room for finding that something might have happened, it either did or did not. In relation to welfare, it was directed that risk assessments of the parents be undertaken on the basis that neither bore any culpable responsibility for the death of C or bruising to B.
Those assessments had a positive outcome and both children were subsequently returned to the care of their parents. The Local Authority sought a Family Assistance Order in respect of A and a Supervision Orders in respect of B. However, the Court accepted the Guardian’s view that it was most appropriate for no Order to be made in relation to A and a 12 month Family Assistance Order in respect of B.
3 February 2014