Northern Ireland

Parents failed to protect baby girl with 14 broken ribs

Belfast High Court

The parents of a baby girl discovered with multiple fractured bones knew of her injuries and failed to protect her, a High Court judge has ruled.

The four-month-old child suffered up to 14 broken ribs.

Further breaks to the infant's arm and leg were found after she was admitted to an undisclosed hospital in Northern Ireland.

Mr Justice Weir was unable to conclude whether harm was inflicted by the mother, father, or both.

He found that both parents had lied in evidence and been preoccupied with distancing themselves from blame at any cost.

'Howled in pain'

A consultant paediatrician told the court he had never seen as many such fractures before.

The judge also heard the infant's forearm was probably bent with enough strength to break the bone.

Another injury was believed to have resulted from the child, identified only as X, being held by the ankle.

According to expert medical opinion the baby's injuries would have happened up to a week before she was admitted to hospital in December 2009, and that she would have "howled in pain".

The judge stated: "I am quite certain that both (parents) were well aware that the child had suffered some injuries before their full extent was established after the child was ultimately brought to hospital on the direction of the general practitioner.

"I am satisfied that they are both bad tempered and at times angry people, and that X, with her well-established feeding and diarrhoea problems would have been capable of readily provoking either of them to a violent and uncontrolled reaction."

Proceedings were brought by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, leading to a hearing into who was responsible for her injuries or to determined those within a "pool of perpetrators".

The child was first taken to hospital with bruising below the left eye. Her mother claimed that she had hit herself on the face with a dummy.

Blanket

Further examination, including x-rays, revealed multiple fractures of differing ages.

These included 13-14 broken ribs found to be caused by severe squeezing of the chest.

Health visitors gave evidence that the mother made out that she was living alone with the child. When they were at the house the father hid upstairs because his partner was claiming single parent benefits.

Both parents have criminal convictions for offences ranging from assault and harassment to criminal damage. They gave conflicting accounts about who was the primary carer for the child.

The mother claimed her partner had inflicted the injuries, alleging she woke once to find him sitting up in bed awake while a blanket was over their baby's face.

But the father maintained he was not to blame for his daughter's injuries.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Weir said the baby girl had been in the care of both parents during the relevant period, yet neither saw any marks or was aware of any pain or serious injury apart from two bruises.

"I consider that neither was truthful and that both were preoccupied with exculpating themselves at any cost," he said.

He said he was satisfied that both parents failed to protect X from harm and that each knew she was suffering at their own or the other's hands.

Final care arrangements for the child, now almost two years old, are still to be resolved.