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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 18:25 GMT
Mothers fight child abuse claims
Angela Cannings
The Angela Cannings case has raised questions
Two mothers who claim their children were wrongly taken into care after false accusations of abuse have taken their cases to the appeal court.

These are the first care cases to reach appeal since Angela Cannings' murder conviction was quashed in December.

The mothers were diagnosed as having Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP), meaning they allegedly caused or exaggerated their child's illness.

Other parents in similar cases are demonstrating outside the court.

The cases involve two separate families and two girls, one aged two and a half and the other aged four.

In one case the child has been put forward for adoption.

The appeals, being heard by three senior judges including president of the Family Division Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, are expected to last two days.

Dame Elizabeth opened the hearing with a warning that there should be no identification of any of the parties involved, including the local authorities and doctors.

It (the Cannings appeal) went to the root of the dogma
Andrew McFarlane
Counsel for one of the mothers

Andrew McFarlane, representing the mother of one of the children, told the court these events were "the accepted norm" before Mrs Cannings was acquitted.

He said the Cannings appeal went to the root of the "dogma or fashion" for concluding sinister motives in cases where no medical explanation is available.

But Dame Elizabeth said in one case there was a consensus among the experts as to the cause of injury suffered by a child and questioned what judges could do when doctors were in agreement.

Mr McFarlane said the child in case U had been taken to hospital four times with unexplained breathing problems.

The child was taken into care after the doctors diagnosed attempted smothering, despite no other signs of abuse.

"Each of the doctors was undertaking the exercise in a way which the judgment says is erroneous" he said.

One of the doctors involved in the case said the whole history of the child's illness pointed to "fabricated rather than natural illness".

Also in case U, Judith Rowe QC, for the local authority, said the Cannings judgement did not "undermine" the original judge's decision which had been considered and was not just based on medical evidence.

Miss Rowe said that in U's case, the experts carried out a very careful exercise, did not leap to inappropriate conclusions and were alive to the possibility of natural causes.

Lives 'torn apart'

One mother in this week's case is trying to prevent her daughter being adopted.

Before the appeal, she told BBC News 24 she had been accused of trying to smother her daughter, who was two at the time.

"I'm not an expert. I haven't got a clue what happened to her. All I know is that my daughter was poorly.

I have had the tragedy in my life - I have had to deal with trying to prove my innocence
Angela Cannings

"I'm in a position where I have to prove to them what happened to her when they haven't got a clue what happened to her, but the easy way for them is, point the finger and say it's abuse."

Mrs Cannings was among protesters outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Wednesday.

She said they wanted questions to be raised about the medical experts who bring accusations of child abuse in the first place.

Meadow's theory

"Our lives were torn apart for four years, and we don't want to see this happening to other people," she told BBC News 24.

A review of cases in which children have been taken away from their parents on the basis of disputed medical evidence was announced by Children's Minister Margaret Hodge last week.

She wrote to local authorities following the case of Angela Cannings, who always maintained the children died from cot death.

Evidence from cot death expert Sir Roy Meadow helped convict Mrs Cannings and another mother, Sally Clark, of murder. Both were eventually cleared.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Alison Holt
"Protecting children will be central to any decision made by the court"



SEE ALSO:
Review of children in care cases
23 Feb 04  |  Politics
Child death cases face review
11 Dec 03  |  Wiltshire
Mother cleared of killing sons
10 Dec 03  |  Wiltshire


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