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Parents reunited with baby after court rules fractures were caused by rickets

9 May 2012

A couple accused of abusing their baby after 17 fractures were discovered have welcomed a court ruling which found that the fractures were not caused by abuse but by the bone-weakening disease rickets.

The case is the second in two weeks where a court has found rickets rather than abuse was the cause of fractures in a baby.

After the abuse allegations were made, the couple's baby was removed from them by social services last October when he was six months old and taken into care. He has spent half of his life in care.

The couple wept with joy after being vindicated and were ecstatic when they were reunited with their baby soon after the ruling in the family court last Friday. The judge in the case has called for more research into vitamin D deficiency and rickets.

Last month, Chana al-Alas and her partner Rohan Wray had their second child, Jayda, returned to them following a hearing in the family court. The couple were acquitted at the Old Bailey last December of killing their older son, Jayden, whose multiple fractures were found to be caused by congenital rickets, not child abuse. Jayda was removed from her parents at birth because of the allegations against them.

Like Alas, the mother in this case was found to be deficient in vitamin D and has been diagnosed with osteomalacia, a condition similar to rickets. This vitamin D deficiency can be passed from mothers to their babies during pregnancy. Following the judgment the couple are calling for women to be routinely tested for vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy.

Last October, the baby fell from a sofa and his parents took him to a London hospital to be checked over. A broken leg was diagnosed. Further x-rays revealed 17 fractures and the couple were suspected of abusing the boy and police and social services were called.

"The doctor told us our son's levels of calcium and vitamin D were very low but kept saying his broken bones were a result of non-accidental injury," said the mother.

Although the hospital diagnosed vitamin D deficiency and rickets, social services applied to the family court for a care order and asked the court to decide whether the baby's injuries were non-accidental.

The judge ruled that the local authority had not satisfied the court that the injuries were non-accidental. Positive evidence was given about the parents' care for their baby and the judge acknowledged the heartache caused to the parents when their baby was taken away from them.

When the fractures were diagnosed the mother stayed in hospital with her son for 20 days. "Then they took him away from me and gave him to a foster carer. I was still breastfeeding him and had never been apart from him for even a minute before," she said. "I was completely devastated. I had never missed a single antenatal appointment but no one ever checked my vitamin D levels.

"The whole thing was like a bad dream. How could I abuse my own child? Our baby had always been so happy. I had taken him to be weighed regularly and nobody had ever expressed any concerns. We even submitted him for a university research programme about brain development. We had nothing to hide.

"I'm pregnant at the moment and they threatened to take the new baby away from us when it's born if the court found we had abused our first child. Doctors and social services have made a mistake."

The family's solicitor, Kevin Skinner of Goodman Ray, said opinion was divided among medical professionals about whether rickets could cause fractures. He said this kind of court proceeding was devastating for parents and supported the judge's call for more research into rickets and vitamin D deficiency.

"After the miscarriage of justice suffered by Jayden's parents it is sad and frustrating to have other parents going through a similar experience just because their child is suffering from a relatively common medical condition. To be accused of abusing a child is terrible for any parent," he said.

Among the UK's adult population, an estimated 50% of white people and 90% of black and Asian people have some degree of vitamin D deficiency.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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