‘We believe you harmed your child’: the war over shaken baby convictions

Expert witnesses who claim parents have been wrongly accused have been vilified and struck off. But the science is anything but certain. What happens to the truth when experts can’t agree? By Will Storr

At first, Craig Stillwell and Carla Andrews only vaguely registered the change at the hospital; how the expressions of warm, calm concern in the doctors and nurses who had been helping them look after their sick baby had iced over. It was 15 August 2016, in the early hours of the morning, and their three-month-old daughter, Effie, was fighting for life.

Two hours earlier, Effie had woken up screaming. Her parents, both 23, had no permanent home and were staying at Craig’s father’s place in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. They had all been asleep on the floor in the lounge: Effie in the travel cot that detached from her pram, Craig still in the uniform he wore as a grass cutter. Carla thought the problem was acid reflux. She passed the baby to Craig and went to prepare a bottle of formula in the kitchen. As she worked, Effie screamed and screamed in the other room. Suddenly she fell silent. Carla heard Craig panic: “Effie! Effie!� She rushed in. Craig, terrified, was holding the child. Effie was white-faced, limbs floppy, eyes fixed, gasping weakly for air.

Related: This shaken baby syndrome case is a dark day for science – and for justice | Clive Stafford Smith

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