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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
'Please don't take my baby'
By John Sweeney

Heavily pregnant Nicky Hardingham is dreading giving birth in two weeks' time because she expects her baby will be taken away shortly after it is born, as her first three children were, for ever.

Nicky and Mark Hardingham
Nicky and Mark fear their fourth child will also be taken away from them

"I am terrified that they will take this baby too."

Nicky, 26, and husband Mark, 33, lost their children - all under school age - in a hostile adoption in 2003.

Their son was found to have been abused after mystery fractures were discovered that could not be satisfactorily explained.

We've never hurt any of our children
Nicky Hardingham

Doctors believed all the children were at risk - and that fear extends to the new baby.

The couple, from Cromer, Norfolk, say they are victims of a cruel miscarriage of justice.

Nicky said: "They said that our son's injuries were consistent with twisting and pulling and that it had happened on several occasions.

"I can't understand any parent who would ever hurt their child. We've never hurt any of our children."

'Explanation ignored'

The story began in 2003 when Nicky and Mark, concerned that their son was poorly, took him to hospital.

At first, doctors could not fathom his illness, and then X-rays led to suspicions.

Nicky and Mark say their explanation for the fractures was ignored.

Four generations of their extended family - with 100 fractures over 60 years - believe that Nicky and Mark are innocent and that the doctors may have been wrong to rule out the family disease of brittle bones or a rare genetic bone condition, Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI).

Many people in the family have some form of bone disorder
There is a family history of bone disorders

Nicky's grandmother, Joyce, was suspected of child abuse in 1946 when she could not explain a fracture in her baby daughter.

Joyce's baby girl, Margaret - who would grow up to be Nicky's mother - was kept from her for six weeks while doctors and nurses investigated their suspicions.

After six weeks Joyce was given the benefit of the doubt. Sixty years on, her grand-daughter was not.

Nicky told doctors about the family history of OI, but told them she had not been diagnosed with the condition which, she was told, meant she could not have passed it on to her son.

The tell-tell signs of OI are blue whites of the eyes and fractures - and Nicky has neither.

Rare condition

Nicky's GP wrote to her saying that two paediatricians at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, had "categorically stated" that there was no way that Nicky's son could have brittle bones.

But Professor Michael Patton, a medical geneticist at St George's Hospital, said it was theoretically possible to have the gene mutation, not to have evident symptoms, but to pass it on to your child.

Adoption was in the children's best interests
Norfolk Social Services statement

"That's what we would call reduced penetrance and we see it in a number of dominant conditions. But it would be an exceptional situation. It would be extremely rare."

Brian Lowry, professor of genetics at Calgary University, said: "In my view it is quite possible for Nicky to have the OI gene and display next to no signs.

"Variable expressivity is part of OI. I do not think you can be categorically certain that you can rule out OI on clinical grounds alone."

DNA test

Three years on from the original allegation, and after Nicky lost all three children after a decision by the Family Court , a statement on behalf of the paediatricians said: "To the best of our knowledge, Mrs Hardingham has not demonstrated any problems characteristic of OI."

There is a DNA test which would have helped to settle the issue before her children were taken from her in the hostile adoptions - which, like all adoptions, are irreversible - but Nicky was not tested because, it seems, she did not have the disease.

After a letter from the BBC in November, the test was finally carried out in April this year.

But the results are not expected until after Nicky's baby is born.

Nicky now realises she does have some signs of OI: poor, pearly or translucent teeth, a greyish tinge to her eyes which look similar to her brother, Wayne, who has been diagnosed as suffering OI, and loose joints.

She can flex her wrist back on itself and she dislocated her pelvis when she gave birth to her son.

Of her three children, one had multiple fractures, one had bad teeth - a symptom of neglect, but also a sign of OI - and two had blue tinges to the white of their eyes.

Nicky's son had so-called metaphyseal fractures, which most experts believe are 'highly specific of child abuse'.

But there is a minority view, that they are not real fractures at all but merely indicate anomalies in bone growth.

Nicky now believes that her son tested positive for micro-cytic anaemia, a blood disorder, that can affect bone growth.

It is a contempt of court to report any of the proceedings of the Family Courts, which take place behind closed doors.

Perhaps as a result, few people understand that the Family Court has the power to take away your child, for ever, on the balance of probability, in the absence of any criminal conviction.

The police looked into the case and dropped all charges against Nicky and Mark.

Norfolk social services pointed out that the law prevents them from discussing any features of the Family Court case.

"All we can stress is that, having heard all the evidence, that a judge, with the complete agreement of the children's own independently appointed guardian, concluded that adoption was in the children's best interests."

Legally, Nicky has no rights over her children and must call them Child A, B and C in public.

When Norfolk social services was asked what they were planning to do with the new baby, they said: "It would be wholly inappropriate and would breach confidentiality to respond to this question."

Nicky said: "It is a wholly appropriate question for me to ask and I waive all confidentiality. Are they planning to take this baby, too?"

If social services do take away her new baby, then it will become Child D.

John Sweeney's report was shown on Real Story, BBC One, Monday 15 May 2006.

Background to the case

My fight to be a mother
15 May 06 |  Real Story

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