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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK


Shaken baby to be taken into care

Shaking a baby can cause burst blood vessels

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a baby girl who was shaken so violently she suffered permanent brain damage should be taken into care.

But the 16-month-old son of the girl's childminder will stay with his family.

The court took the decision despite the fact that it remains unclear whether the childminder or the 15-month-old girl's family caused her injuries.

Lancashire County Council requested a care order for both children.

The case was referred to the appeal court after Blackburn county court refused its request because it could not identity who had shaken the baby.

It heard that she was admitted to hospital on three occasions.

On each occasion, she had spent the day with the childminder.

However, there was no evidence that the childminder's son had been harmed.


Announcing the Court of Appeal decision, Lord Justice Robert Walker admitted that, if the girl's parents were "innocent of causing serious physical harm, they may regard our conclusion as very unjust".

But he said the judgement could have gone in their favour "if their behaviour had been more responsible".

This included heavy drinking and a history of amphetamine abuse.

He added that the basis for the decision was the girl's "best interests".

The case has now been referred back to Blackburn county court to decide the level of future risk to the girl and how she should be looked after.

Judge David Gee at Blackburn county court said his original ruling in April was one of the hardest decisions of his career.

"If the criteria are met and orders are made I am exposing one child to the possibility of removal from parents who are no risk and have done no wrong," he said at the time.

Lancashire county council said it sought the Court of Appeal review because the case raised "issues of public importance".

The son of the childminder is now staying with his grandparents and is the subject of a custody battle.

Shaken baby syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome is a potentially fatal form of child abuse, which rose to prominence following the case against nanny Louise Woodward.

It occurs when a baby is forcefully shaken, leading to damage within the child's skull.

A UK study published in December 1998 found that 75% of babies who suffer brain injuries from shaking will die or suffer permanent disability.

Because a baby's head is very large and heavy in comparison with its body and neck muscles are weak, the force of the head movement can tear fragile, immature blood vessels that bridge the brain and skull.

When shaking occurs, the brain bounces within the skull cavity, bruising the brain tissue.

The brain swells, creating pressure and leading to bleeding at the back of the eye. This can cause blindness or other eye injuries.

If blood vessels feeding the brain are torn, the baby may suffer brain damage or abnormalities.

Other risks are seizures, lethargy, vomiting, and irritability, or in extreme cases, coma or even death.

In another shaken baby case on Tuesday, an unregistered childminder was put on two years' probation after being found guilty of cruelty leading to the death of a baby boy in her charge.

She had gone out to the shops, leaving the boy with her 11-year-old son who had a history of behavioural problems and had beaten his own five-year-old sister.

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