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Baby harmed by father High Court rules

A ten month old baby was harmed by her father, a High Court has ruled, and his older brothers and sisters were emotionally harmed in the process.

In Re A, B, C and D, the man was held parental responsibility for the two middle children because his name was on their birth certificates but he was the acknowledged father of all four.

The parents had lived together until around 2009 when they split up following “an altercation between them during which the father head-butted her”. However, they continued to see each other and the fourth child, referred to as ‘D’ in the judgement, was born in July last year. The father helped with childcare, even giving up his job when he was refused paternity leave by his then employer.

However, in July last year, D suffered an injury while in the father’s care. The mother had agreed to visit Hayling Island in Hampshire with a friend for the August Bank Holiday weekend that year, A, the oldest child, and D, initially stayed with their aunt while the mother was away, then with their father. The middle children spent of the weekend camping with their mother, before going to stay with the father on the Bank Holiday Monday.

Early the following morning, there was an exchange of text messages between the father and the mother’s friend, during which the father complained of being kept awake by the crying baby and threatened to call social services. The following morning he also said he had lost his job as a result of being kept awake.

When the children were eventually collected from the father’s house, he behaved oddly, “shouting and swearing”, and the baby D seemed distressed and restless. Various pressure marks were found on his body. The father seemed unconcerned and the mother exploded in anger, telling him:

“If I find out you have touched him I will kill you”.

Baby D was eventually taken to hospital and appeared to have a seizure. A CT scan revealed that bleeding on the brain and he was transferred to an intensive care unit. An MRI scan later confirmed injuries to the brain.

The father was charged with grievous bodily harm but acquitted during his criminal trial in February this year. Afterwards, however, the family’s local authority launched care proceedings in relation to all four children.

Sitting at the High Court in London, Mrs Justice Hogg held a fact-finding hearing into responsibility for the injuries to D. The father denied causing the injuries, suggesting that it must have been A, the oldest child, or one other children instead. He denied using cannabis or other drugs on the weekend in question, but also admitted being a regular user of the former.

A, meanwhile, said he had seen her father inflict the injuries to her baby brother.

Mrs Justice Hogg concluded that the father was solely responsible, declaring that the father had “lost control” with the crying baby and inflicted the injuries. He had been cross with the mother on the weekend in question.

She explained:

“The father was frustrated and angry with the mother; he had wanted to buy cannabis on his own admission.”

The judge criticised the father for being “self-absorbed and self-centred”, saying he had not properly considered the effects of his behaviour on his family. But she also claimed he had been a good father in the past and clearly loved his children.

“I am critical of him and his behaviour, but I can also see he has good qualities. He needs to reflect on his own behaviour and how it has and still affects other people, in particular his children.”

Nevertheless, the requirements of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 had been satisfied, she declared. This states that:

“A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied—

(a)that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and

(b)that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—

(i)the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him…”

Mrs Justice Hogg also declared that A had her siblings were entirely free of blame for the incident, but had suffered emotional harm as a result.

Read the full judgement here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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