Other explanation for alleged Shaken Baby Syndrome highlighted in recent England case

Claire Edgar

05 May 2017

 

A recent case in England has highlighted the importance of fully and thoroughly investigating cases of suspected Shaken Baby Syndrome.

‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ is one of many names given to an injury normally termed as ‘Abusive Head Trauma’.   This is an injury which is normally caused by someone (most often a parent or other caregiver) forcefully shaking a child or striking a child's head against a surface.   It is presumed that many cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome occur when the caregiver cannot get the baby to stop crying and, out of frustration or anger, shakes the baby.   Unfortunately, this shaking can have the effect of causing brain damage to a very young child. 

Last year, a young couple in England, Craig Stillwell and Carla Andrews, had their baby daughter Effie removed from their care for almost 8 months after Social Services were concerned that an injury akin to Shaken Baby Syndrome had been caused to Effie’s brain.

Effie collapsed last August 2016 aged five months and at the hospital, Mr Stillwell was arrested by the police and accused of causing grievous bodily harm to her.   The local Council took the case to the Family Court, alleged a non-accidental injury had been caused to Effie and they sought an Order for her to be placed in care.  Effie was placed in foster care whilst the case was investigated and her parents were only allowed to see her three times a week for 90 minutes in a supervised environment.  

It was only when Effie’s mother Miss Andrews researched what could have caused the bleeding in her daughter's brain and after subsequent medical tests, that it was revealed that Effie suffered from a rare medical condition known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type IV (Vascular EDS).   This is a condition which causes "thin and translucent skin, easy bruising, vascular and arterial rupture".

Upon discovering this alternative cause of the injuries to Effie, the Court case was withdrawn and Effie was returned home to her parent’s care.  

Miss Andrews told the media that it was "amazing" to have her daughter back home but that she and her partner had been treated “like monsters” at the hospital and that the whole ordeal was “heartbreaking”.

The couple were not going to take any action against the local Council but wanted to raise awareness of the condition.   Miss Andrews said: "I feel bitter towards the hospital. I know they have to do their job but they should've gone about it differently."  Mr Stillwell added: "We want to get the awareness out there that these connected tissue disorders do exist.  They may be invisible but they can cause a lot of damage and they do mimic child abuse and shaken baby syndromes."

Unfortunately, the Courts here in Northern Ireland see cases of suspected Shaken Baby Syndrome.  The above example highlights how important it is in each case to explore all other possible causes of the injury and to ensure that there is minimal delay in collecting medical evidence from experts in this field.

We are experienced in representing parents in suspected non-accidental injury cases such as  Shaken Baby Syndrome.  We can provide you with specialist support, advice and guidance at what can be the most difficult of times.   If you require advice or assistance, please feel free to contact us for a free no obligation discussion on cedgar@fhanna.co.uk or 028 9024 3901.