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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Baby death parents spared jail
Garabet Manuelyan at the Old Bailey on Friday
Garabet Manuelyan at the Old Bailey on Friday
The parents of a nine-month-old girl who died after being fed a fruit-based diet have been spared a jail sentence.

Areni Manuelyan died of a chest infection, brought on by malnutrition in July 2000 weighing just eleven and a half pounds, six pounds less than she should have.

At her post mortem she was found to be markedly thin, dehydrated and to have severe pneumonia - all of which could be linked to malnutrition.

At their trial, her parents, Garabet and Hazmik Manuelyan, both 45, pleaded guilty to child cruelty.

That would normally have resulted in a prison sentence.

You have been punished and will continue to be punished by the consequences of your actions

Judge David Paget
But at the Old Bailey on Friday, Judge David Paget said what had happened to the family was punishment enough.

The Armenian couple, from Staines, Surrey, described as "loving but misguided" in court, were placed under a community rehabilitation order for three years.

Mrs Manuelyan still sleeps on the blanket that last held Areni.

She was described by Linda Strudwick who was defending her as "a mother who cared passionately for her children. Perhaps she cared too much."

The couple's two other children have been taken into care.

Judge Paget said: "This is a wholly exceptional and tragic case.

"You have been punished and will continue to be punished by the consequences of your actions."


The couple were vegans, but in 1996 switched to a fruitarian diet consisting of raw vegetables fruit and nuts.

After Areni's birth on 8 September 1999, the family saw a paediatrician who said the baby was not developing properly, and that her mother's breastmilk was nutritionally deficient.

Other doctors and social workers warned against the diet.

But the court was told the couple had shown a "stubborn refusal", and would not follow the advice.

Later, the family went to live on a vegetarian commune in Spain, where they believed Areni's Vitamin D deficiency would be cured by sunlight.

The couple believed all Areni needed was "sunshine and fruit".

They returned to the UK in July 2000 when Areni became seriously ill.

A doctor who the couple went to see, who specialised in oxygen therapy, told Areni's parents she needed to be taken to hospital immediately.

But Mr Manuelyan, a bus driver, was said to be worried about the chemicals his daughter may be treated with, and the couple ignored the advice.

On July 5, 2000, an ambulance was called to the family home because Areni had stopped breathing. She was taken to hospital and later certified dead.

A nutritionist said even if she had been taken to hospital the day before her death, she could have survived.


Nutritionists say a fruitarian, or fruit-only diet, is completely ill-advised for such a small child.

They add that even adults need to be careful not to stick to a fruit-only diet for too long.

Catherine Collins, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, (BDA) said some fruitarians did eat raw vegetables or pulses.

But she said: "The main problem for a nine-month old child is that they need a very high calorie to weight intake."

Without that, she said babies of that age - and younger - would not have the fuel they need for muscle growth, organ growth and brain development.

They would miss out on proteins, iron, calcium, essential fatty acids and raw fibre, which will all affect their development.

BDF paediatric dietician Nicole Dos Santos said babies would also need the fat and nutrients they would receive from breast or bottle milk, and it was important babies received one or the other.

She said a fruit-only diet was unsuitable for a child. "This is not a diet a child should be put on."

The BBC's Michael Buchanan
"There is no question that the couple loved their daughter"
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