Behind the headlines

There is to be a review of 258 criminal cases in which parents
have been convicted of killing their babies. The move has been
prompted by the quashing of convictions against Angela Cannings and
Sally Clark who were both falsely accused of killing their
children. The credibility of some expert witnesses in the child
abuse field, in particular paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow, has been
called into question.

Bob Hudson, professor of partnership studies, Centre for
Health Services Management , University of

“There are many dilemmas, none with a simple answer. We need
evidence-based decisions, but what counts as evidence? We need to
balance the terrible injustices some families have endured with
what is best for the child, but this in turn will lead to injustice
for some. The only win here is that in the future, each case should
be treated sensitively and on its individual merits, rather than
subject to Sir Roy’s unscientific ‘rule of thumb’.”

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“The over-simplistic nature of some of the responses – Sir Roy got
it wrong and therefore all cases should be reversed – is clearly
problematic. Yet the fact that you can hire someone to speak for or
against a particular line has always troubled me. It should lead to
a balanced outcome if both sides are heard; we should beware of the
over-reliance on the advice of any one ‘expert’ who becomes
god-like. And the courts need to be vigilant to guard against

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth
“Two mothers sought justice from King Solomon. One
woman’s baby had died ‘because she lay on him.’ But both claimed
the other baby was theirs. Solomon declared, “Divide the living
boy” between the women. One agreed; the other pleaded the child be
given to the other ‘because compassion for her son burned within
her.’ Today, the courts need the wisdom of Solomon to discern the
best interests of each individual child.”

Karen Squillino, children’s services manager,

“We appear to live in a world where the voice of the medical expert
is often the only voice that is listened to. The medical profession
is situated at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to
multi-agency working. Reliance on the evidence of one individual is
dangerous. Multi agency assessments need to be more thorough so
that the voice of other professionals can be used to make final

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The Meadow fiasco must lead to an urgent review on the appointment
of experts in public law cases – courts must consider abandoning
the appointment of a joint single expert agreed by all parties. It
is acceptable for experts to have different views and the court
should not look for agreement but rather weigh up all the evidence,
including, crucially, the evidence of the social worker, whose
status in court is too often undervalued. But we must also consider
with great care cases already in the pipeline where decisions have
to be made about the future of new infants whose parents lost
custody of other children.”

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