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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Shaken baby call by parents
Cases of 'shaken baby syndrome' are increasing
Parents wrongly accused of abusing their babies by shaking them have called for better medical procedures in all suspected cases.

A group called the Five Percenters has told Europe's first conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome, which began in Edinburgh on Monday, that one in twenty cases could have been wrongly diagnosed.

The syndrome, where infants suffer serious brain injuries as a result of violent shaking, was first identified in the 1940s.

But it was the trial of British nanny Louise Woodward which resulted in it becoming a household phrase.

Medical evidence

Last March Edinburgh nanny Tina McLeod was acquitted of shaking a baby in her care.

She claimed his head injuries were sustained when he fell off a sofa.

At the conference in Edinburgh, the Five Percenters said hundreds of parents and carers are being wrongly accused of shaking their babies.

They argue recent medical evidence shows that minor falls and birth trauma can cause similar injuries to Shaken Baby Syndrome.

They want all babies with retinal bleeds to be seen by a specialist within 24 hours of admission to hospital, and a review after fourteen days, to help prevent misdiagnosis.

I don't feel that politicians are taking the whole issue as seriously as we would like them to.
DCI Wheeler

The group's founder, Rioch Edwards-Brown, fought a battle to clear her name after her son died.

"The likely scenario is the parent turns up at hospital and a subdural brain bleed is found, or retinal haemorrhages, or both, and Shaken Baby Syndrome will be the immediate diagnosis," she said.

"So it's a bit like you're guilty before you can prove your own innocence."

However, detective chief inspector Phil Wheeler, the UK police service's leading expert on the syndrome, believes the true level of abuse could be far higher than the estimated 200 or so cases coming before the courts every year.

Of the 50 infant homicides annually, he claims many are as a result of adults violently shaking small children.

From his experience, twins are more likely to be abused because of the demands they place upon parents and nannies who find it difficult to cope.

DCI Wheeler said: "I don't feel that politicians are taking the whole issue as seriously as we would like them to.

"As a society we need to take far greater measures to try to prevent incidents of physical abuse against babies.

"Young mothers under stress should be encouraged to talk about their problems and seek help."

'Shaken baby syndrome' doubts
13 Mar 03  |  Health
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13 Jun 01  |  Health
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05 Feb 99  |  Medical notes
Baby murder 'not proven'
07 Mar 03  |  Scotland

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