A young father twice prevented his baby daughter from breathing, a family court judge has concluded.
The case concerned a toddler referred to as ‘L’, who was born in May last year. In September and October, she suffered two alarming episodes during which she stopped breathing and required resuscitation.
The local authority suspected the father of causing these episodes and applied to have L taken into care, under section 31 of the Children Act 1989, which allows councils to intervene when a child is at risk of harm.
A fact finding hearing was held to decide on the truth of the council’s belief that the young Dad had secretly obstructed the baby’s airway on both occasions.
L’s parents are now both in their mid-20s. They began their relationship as teenagers, initially living with the mother’s aunt. His Honour Judge Booth noted:
“Their relationship has not always run smoothly and there have been periods when they have been separated. Both parents, but particularly the mother, had difficult childhoods.”
The mother was diagnosed with depression in her teens. The couple had two children – the first towards the end of 2011 and the second a year later. The second died at shortly after birth after developing pneumonia.
The father developed a serious fruit machine habit and the couple separated. Sadly, in August 2013, the couple’s older child also died, after a day being looked after by his father. No clear cause of death could be found and an open verdict was recorded.
The mother again lapsed into depression and spent time in a psychiatric hospital after taking an overdose. Nevertheless the couple later reconciled and L was born.
Mr Justice Booth considered copious medical evidence relating to the deaths of the two older children and the incidents involving L. Amongst the submissions were reports by five expert witnesses: four paediatricians (doctors specialising in children’s health) and one consultant in clinical genetics.
In his ruling the Judge explained:
“It is the local authority’s case that her father has directly caused the problems on each occasion by somehow blocking her airways so that she was starved of breath and thereby oxygen causing her to turn blue and lose consciousness or go floppy. The fact that that obstruction was a temporary one when she was otherwise well has allowed her to make a full recovery very quickly.”
“There is no direct evidence of what it is that L’s father is said to have done. I am therefore invited to infer from all the evidence that he must have done something to temporarily starve her of oxygen – such as putting a pillow over her face – but then allowing her to recover by being able to breathe again.”
Doing such a thing to a helpless child would be “unimaginable to most parents” Judge Booth noted, but the local authority suggested that the father had been motivated by a fear that his relationship with the mother might be coming to an end.
“The local authority suggest that in causing a near death experience for L her father was hoping that he would be seen by mother as the person who saved L and/or that it would draw them back together as yet another dreadful shared experience.”
Judge Booth described the father as a “disturbing witness”, willing to ignore reality. His evidence had been delivered in an emotionless manner he noted.
The Judge concluded that the father had done “things to L that he should not have done”, declaring:
“It is likely that his motive for behaving in this way was a warped perception that this was the best way to restore his relationship with L’s mother and that as before tragedy or near tragedy would draw them back together.”
You can read the full ruling here.
Image by Yamaguchi先生 via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence