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(Family Division, Pauffley J, 7 August 2013)
The parents' firstborn child died at 4 months with leg and rib injuries considered to be non-accidental. The father had a conviction for assault on an older son with whom he had no contact. When their second child was born the mother was considered unable to protect him due to her support of the father and care proceedings took place on the day of his birth.
At the outset of the substantive hearing the local authority, supported by the children's guardian, put forward a care plan for adoption. However, during the hearing and following the evidence of the grandmother, the local authority claimed to have been suitably impressed to now recommend a residence order in favour of the mother, who had separated from the father, and grandmother with a 12-month supervision order.
Having reviewed all the evidence, including the evidence in relation to the father's oldest child, the judge was in no doubt that the first child's injuries were inflicted non-accidentally by the father.
The father was an unimpressive witness who had manipulated those around him into believing his account of what happened to his older son and the parents' first child. He had not informed the mother of his previous conviction and deliberately kept her away from his probation officer. It was not fair or reasonable to conclude that the mother should have asked more questions of the father. There was nothing to substantiate claims that the mother should have acted differently. She had done nothing wrong and should not be viewed as a parent who failed to protect her child.
The most appropriate order was a joint residence order in favour of the mother and maternal grandmother. Having regard to the welfare of the child, twice yearly supervised contact with the father was appropriate.
The judge noted that she ought to have been able to place reliance on the social work report in order to reach a proper welfare determination but it had been of poor quality, superficial and did not reflect the key principles which underpinned the workings of the family justice system.
The consultant paediatrician had produced an unnecessarily lengthy report which contained background information and material from other medical reports which were not requested. Over-inclusive and expensive reports were no longer acceptable. Experts must conform to the specifics of what was asked of them rather than providing something akin to a paediatric overview.
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