In a complex, recently published case, the Court of Appeal has refused a mother permission to appeal against a finding that she had failed to protect her child from harm.
The child concerned a child – A – who was admitted to hospital at the age of five and half months after the mother rang emergency services at two in the morning and told them:
“My baby has been screaming all night and looks like he is dying — has gone floppy and is breathing weird and making weird noises.”
On admission, A was found to have suffered significant multiple head injuries – one of which was later found to have been caused by a blunt impact – but eventually made a full recovery.
This hospital admission followed one four days earlier in which the mother had taken the child to hospital with a rash on both wrists, suspecting meningitis. He was discharged after a period of observation.
The judge at the initial hearing ruled that this rash had been caused by tight gripping of the child’s wrists, either by the mother or a man living in her home at the time, referred to in the court documents as ‘AP’. However, the rash was a minor injury and therefore not ‘significant harm’, as defined by the Children Act 1989.
The judge – at Bristol County Court – went on to rule that the head injuries had been caused by AP, who had a history of violence and drug use, but that the mother had failed to protect her child by leaving him alone with AP.
The mother sought permission to appeal this ruling. The local authority, meanwhile, sought to appeal the finding that the rashes had not amounted to significant harm for the purposes of the Children’s Act, and also the finding that AP alone was the perpetrator of the head injuries.
Lord Justices Ward, Tomlinson and Lewison were robust in their refusal of all three grounds for appeal. The lords said the original judge’s ruling on the rashes had been “helpful” and “thoroughly justified”. They took a similar view of Judge O’Malley’s finding that the mother “shared a small part of the blame” for the injuries inflicted by AP.
The judge’s ruling had been short but impeccable and he was under no obligation to include all evidence in his judgement. The judge had made findings of credibility based on live evidence and attempts to appeal such findings were not to be encouraged, said the Lord Justices.