Neon Roberts tumour case: Judge gives go-ahead for surgery

Neon and Sally Roberts Doctors and Sally Roberts (right) did not agree on Neon's next treatment

A seven-year-old boy with a brain tumour should undergo surgery against his mother's wishes, a court has ruled.

Neon Roberts had a tumour removed last year and his mother Sally was fighting legal action for him to have radiotherapy.

Doctors told the High Court the question had now become whether he had to have an "urgent" operation because some of the tumour remained.

Mr Justice Bodey ruled the surgery should go ahead on Wednesday.

Neon's case was in the Family Division of the High Court because New Zealand-born Mrs Roberts, 37, was opposing action taken by a number of organisations which wanted him to have radiotherapy.

The judge told the court it was likely he would make a ruling by the end of week on any further treatment, including radiotherapy.

'Not bonkers mother'

Mrs Roberts earlier went into hiding with her son because she did not want him to have the treatment, sparking a nationwide search on 5 December before both were found unharmed.

Analysis

Neon Robert's case isn't a legal precedent, but it is extremely unusual.

In the past judges have ruled that children should undergo life-saving medical treatment which their parents oppose.

In fact, it's fairly common, and can happen very quickly in life and death situations.

A judge can be woken in the middle of the night, and a ruling can be obtained in an hour.

However, it is far more common for that to happen when the parents actually want the treatment for their child, but their religion forbids it, or they fear being ostracised by their community.

Sally Roberts was unusual in that she did not want her son to undergo radiotherapy treatment.

That led her to take the highly unusual step of going into hiding with her son, which in turn led the court to take the virtually unprecedented step in a case involving a child, of naming Neon and releasing his photo - to increase the chances that he would be found.

Judges have to be pushed hard to do that, as Neon will forever be identified as the child in this case.

At seven, he lacks the legal capacity to consent to surgery, and so the court has exercised its inherent jurisdiction to make a declaration that is in his best interests.

At a hearing on 7 December, the court was told doctors recommended Neon had radiotherapy and said he could die if he did not receive the treatment.

At that hearing Mrs Roberts said she feared it could do long-term harm including causing brain damage and infertility.

She told the court she was not a "bonkers mother" and said she only wanted the best for her son.

On Tuesday, doctors told the court surgery was needed because an MRI scan revealed a residual tumour left from the boy's last operation.

A doctor said it was "highly likely" Neon would die within a "relatively short period" without further treatment.

Mr Justice Bodey said expert evidence showed Neon had a residual cancer growth larger than 1.5 sq cm.

Mrs Roberts told the court she wanted opinions from more doctors: "I feel I need more expert opinion on it before proceeding."

Addressing Mrs Roberts directly, as she had dismissed her counsel, the judge said she did not accept evidence from cancer experts, including a second opinion obtained on her behalf.

The judge rejected arguments that the newly found growth could have been inflamed scar tissue from the last procedure.

Mr Justice Bodey said no-one could fail to be sympathetic with Neon's mother.

But he added that, in such a case of such extreme urgency, further delay would only postpone difficult decisions and "we do not have the luxury of time".

The court was adjourned until Thursday.

Mrs Roberts will now be represented by Imran Khan, who has previously represented the parents of Stephen Lawrence who was stabbed to death in London in 1993.

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