Parenting : Shaken Baby Syndrome to be challenged

The Guardian

The existence of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) will be challenged in a group appeal in Britain this week, which could lead to scores of parents having their convictions for killing children quashed. A pathologist who helped convict one of the four people going to the court of appeal in London has switched sides after carrying out research which has led some within the medical profession to question whether shaken baby syndrome can be diagnosed as a form of child abuse. Britain’s attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, is taking a close interest in the appeals, which are due to begin on Thursday. If the convictions of Alan Cherry, Lorraine Harris, Raymond Rock and Michael Faulder are quashed, another 89 parents or carers could have their convictions for killing their babies by shaking them re-examined by the appeal court. It could also trigger legal action by parents who have had their children taken away in the family courts. The appeals will focus on work carried out by Professor Helen Whitwell, a forensic pathologist in Birmingham, and Dr Jennian Geddes, a consultant neuropathologist, which challenges the diagnostic test paediatricians use to determine whether a a baby has been abused by shaking, saying it is no longer safe.

Their research contradicts the central theory that three injuries — bleeding behind the eyes, swelling of the brain and bleeding beneath the top layer of the brain - are definitive proof of deliberate violent shaking. The pathologists say their research suggests that much less force is required to cause these injuries and they could happen when a carer accidentally allows a baby’s head to flop backwards and forwards. The class action is being watched by doctors in America, where the British nanny Louise Woodward was jailed for shaking a baby to death, and in Australia. Rioch Edwards-Brown, a campaigner on behalf of parents who claim they were wrongly accused of abuse, said science has taken over where in the past diagnoses had been made based on opinion.“For obvious reasons there has never been a laboratory test of what happens when a baby is shaken to death, so diagnosis has been by dogma and opinion. What has happened is that science has now come in,” she said. “It has taken a long time to get here and those parents that need to be given back their lives and, where possible, their children should see this happen quickly.”