Matthew Brookes-Baker and Stephen Crispin in Bracknell Forest Council v Mother & Ors [2024] EWFC 68

10th Apr 2024 | Cases

Stephen Crispin appeared on behalf of the Joint Legal Team for the Applicant Council and Matthew Brookes-Baker was instructed by Griffiths Robertson Solicitors for the Second Respondent father in Bracknell Forest Council v Mother & Ors [2024] EWFC 68, a fact-finding hearing in care proceedings concerning allegations that one or other of the parents had deliberately inflicted injury to a non-mobile infant.

The fact-finding hearing concerned CA, an infant less than a month old, who was admitted to hospital on 25 April 2023 after presenting with six “purple patches” on her skin in different areas of her body, which all the treating clinicians concluded were bruises. The parents had no explanation for the marks. Given the apparent bruising and lack of any explanation the hospital staff were concerned that the bruising was non-accidental injury. The Local Authority issued care proceedings shortly afterwards.

At the fact-finding the Local Authority’s sought findings  that each of the six bruises had been inflicted by the mother and/or father by the application of an impact force in excess of normal or rough handling. Despite a damaging admission in a text message from the father to the mother just prior to CA being admitted to hospital, both parents continued to deny the allegation and denied that the marks were bruises.

The court heard evidence which confirmed that after CA  was examined at the hospital all the treating clinicians, which included a consultant dermatologist and consultant paediatrician, concluded that the marks were bruises.  At the fact-finding hearing the jointly instructed  evidence from the consultant paediatrician was that the healing process for the marks was “unusually fast for bruising”. The marks were also unusual in shape, meaning that a condition called cutis marmorata,  which, like bruises, may not necessarily blanch under pressure, could not be discounted. The expert therefore departed from his written report to the court and confirmed that he was unable to express an opinion that the marks were bruising, rendering the evidence for the presence of bruises equivocal.  

The court confirmed that  the burden of proving the allegations remains at all times with the Local Authority. The balance of the medical evidence at the conclusion of the fact-finding hearing was now insufficient to satisfy that burden. The court went on to consider the other evidence, to include the father’s incriminating text messages to the mother, but concluded that this, in combination with the equivocal medical evidence, was still insufficient for the court to find that the injuries were inflicted by  one or other of the parents. The court could not be satisfied that the marks were bruises and it necessarily followed that the court could therefore not find the parents culpable. In those circumstances the Local Authority was unable to satisfy the test in section 32(2) Children Act 1989 and the application was dismissed.

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