2003, We were at the height of the Munchausen by Proxy hysteria. Alleged smothering, alleged salt poisonings and alleged shaken baby cases becoming a daily occurrence.
I had more cases than most lawyers at that point. Most of my life was spent cross referencing medical records and researching genetics and meeting families to get further background on lifestyles etc. Meeting the families, spending time with them all, inevitably led to an emotional attachment. In part, my very disruptive upbringing, moving all the time, lent itself to forging friendships quite quickly.
In amongst the cases were a young Asian couple. Muslim. Babies. They were younger than my eldest 3 children. Mum had been accused of smothering her baby after 3 admissions to hospital for apnoea (baby had stopped breathing) The allegation was MSbP, Mum was smothering to get attention. Part of the rationale coming from the medical profession was that, unlike many others in their community, their marriage was a love match and therefore was ‘not approved of by the community’ ergo she smothered the baby. Paradoxically in another case of alleged smothering, Muslim again, the rationale was ‘it was an arranged marriage and mother was unhappy so she smothered the baby’. Crazy, the whole thing was just barking mad. None of these allegations were supported with any evidence other than a theory on top of out and out prejudism.
This family lived just 20 minutes from my home and I saw them at least once a week. They came round to the house. Ate with us, played with my children and to a degree, became part of my extended family. I also spent time in London with their extended families garnering medical evidence of very high levels of sudden infant death and breathing difficulties that were to be found on both sides.
It wasn’t long before it became apparent that there was an underlying genetic problem. One that needed much more exploration. One the Family Courts decided was not ‘in the child’s best interest’ to explore as it would take ‘too long and it was too expensive’ and the baby was being placed for adoption.
We were lucky in so far as we had a dedicated Legal team who were not going to give up without a fight. We also had significant support within main stream media, all of whom had met and spent time with the family pouring (illegally) over the evidence and were also convinced of mum’s innocence.
Without going into the protracted court proceedings, eventually the parents lost the case and it was freed for adoption. Mum and dad were bereft, they came straight from the high court to my home and were inconsolable. I was horrified. Having been apart from my own baby when I was imprisoned, I felt their grief.
At that time, in law, an adoption order could not be reversed.
I immediately went into full blown ‘ marketing mode’ and bought in every single media group with whom I had a relationship. Pushing the narrative of stolen babies and false allegations. It paid off. Because of the pressure bought to bear by those members of the media, the lawyers and the medical professionals who we had on board, we managed to get an appeal on the adoption.
The day of the appeal is burnt into my memory. This was the only chance we had of stopping this. We were in the Royal Courts of Justice. We had a barrister whom I would have trusted with my life, an amazing man, if anyone could ‘win’ this he could. I looked at our panel of judges and I had some hope that we may, just may be able to persuade the court to set a precedent. Stop an adoption after the baby had been freed.
I cannot describe in words how terrifying this experience is. Waiting for jury’s to come in with their verdict is bad enough. Knowing that a baby is about to be permanently lost is actually worse. I have waited for so many verdicts in criminal court, including my own, nothing compared to this though. Nothing. I was trying to be strong for the parents, but found myself shaking and being sick.
The hearing proceeded. Our barrister was incredible, even the judges commented on his expertise both legally and medically and his ability to uncomplicate complex medical evidence, during the proceedings. He put the ‘other side’ to shame. I sat there polarised, just watching the three judges, all the time the word please please please running through my head.
It wasn’t to be. No, they would not reverse the adoption. However, yes they would ensure that adoption orders could be challenged in the future. Second prize.
The abject fear in that court on that day was palpable as they handed down their judgement. I was watching mum and dad, mum began wailing. That awful sound that comes from deep inside, a sound that makes your hair stand on end, dad just looked shocked. I don’t know what happened to me at that point, but I found myself on my knees begging, begging the judges to revise their decision. I was crawling at one point. I remember being helped up by the barrister and an usher and being led out of the courtroom, the barrister was crying too. Repeating over and over again ‘I am so sorry, I am so sorry’. All that harm, all that fucking harm.
The next proper memory I have is of all of us being sat in a room somewhere and somebody was bringing us tea. I know it was tea, it had sugar in it, I don’t take sugar. Dad had not spoken. Not a word. He was just still. Mum was shaking and I was totally useless to anyone. I was a mess. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So much misery. Too much, it was overwhelming. So many people affected by false allegations. I was absolutely heartbroken, I still am. If that’s how I feel, I cannot imagine the pain the parents felt at the moment in which their baby was legally abducted by the state on the basis of a false allegation.
In the years that have followed, it has been established that the family on both sides, have Long QT syndrome and Vitamin D deficiency. We were right. They were wrong. We did our job. They didn’t.
I never did another family court case after this one. I have never recovered from what I witnessed or experienced.
I wrote this as a third party. Somebody who was peripheral. It wasn’t my baby. It wasn’t my family, yet it was truly devastating. If that is how it affected me on the sidelines. Can you imagine what it does to a family. When the words that somebody has committed a heinous crime against a child, without any evidence to support that, are lobbed through the door. A metaphorical hand grenade.
Can you imagine that moment when the bomb goes off within that family, the impact it has. The energy it takes to fight the allegations, the sorrow, the anger, the feelings of futility .. It is a form of terrorism. False allegations harm, they kill, they are not just words, those words become a weapon. A weapon of mass destruction within nuclear families.
If stalking laws include psychiatric harm as part of the offence of criminal behaviour. Why is a false allegation not charged as a form of stalking as opposed to perverting the course of justice? Some of the false accusers are manipulative, cunning, exploitative and they do stalk their victims, using the CJS.
These families are treated as casualties in the war against certain crimes. Crimes that engender immotive feelings in people, those feelings are exploited by those making the false allegations. Somehow it is justified to have made ‘ mistakes’ that destroy people, if it is for the ‘greater good.’ Sacrifice the few to protect the many.
It is NOT OK. None of it is OK.
It is time for those that make false allegations are held to account and for those that assisted in that process to be bought to book. Then maybe, just maybe the healing can begin.