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Family Bruised in Fall
March 8, 2008 permalink
When a British family took their bruised baby to a doctor after a fall, social services grabbed both their children. This was one of the lucky families that eventually got the kids back.
07/03/08 - News section
Social workers took our children away... because of an incorrect hospital diagnosis
By FIONA BARTON
There is nothing lavish planned for Benjamin Lamb's first birthday.
The happy, lively toddler is going to the zoo with his mother, father and big sister, Caitlin.
Then they will gather with the rest of their family to blow out the single candle on a birthday cake and toast his future.
It will be a day of ordinary pleasures - but for the Lambs, it will mark the end of an extraordinary nightmare.
Last September, Paul Lamb and Michelle Thomas, a young professional couple from Stockport in Manchester, had their children taken away by social services.
For four traumatic months, the couple were permitted to see their children only if they were supervised.
They were accused of deliberately harming them, of throwing Ben to the ground, of lying and of covering up their "unspeakable crime".
The couple believed they would lose their son and daughter for ever.
In fact, as a court finally ruled last month, they had done none of these things. The Lamb children were taken because information went unrecorded in a set of medical notes and a crucial diagnosis was missed.
It began on September 25, 2007, in the dining room of the terraced house in Stockport the Lambs had just bought for their growing family.
Miss Thomas, 25, an administrative assistant in the X-ray department of a local hospital, was holding six-month-old Ben in her arms.
She said: "Ben began getting cranky and kicking his legs against me. He wriggled out of my grip and fell to the floor.
"I tried to catch him but he caught his head on the ground. He cried for a few minutes and had a small red mark on the back of his head. We rang the GP straight away and he said to keep an eye on Ben overnight."
A week later, Mr Lamb, 29, an accounts manager with a printing firm, was stroking his son's head when he felt an inch-long "boggy" swelling under his hair.
The couple took the baby to the accident and emergency department at Stepping Hill Hospital.
Staff said the swelling could not have been caused by the fall. Mr Lamb said: "The doctor said he thought perhaps Caitlin had been a bit rough with her brother or he had caught himself with a toy.
"But the next day, the swelling was still there. I wasn't happy so I took Ben to a 24-hour GP service."
Ben was sent back to Stepping Hill Hospital to be seen by a paediatrician. Again, the earlier fall was dismissed as possible cause of the swelling. Hours later, Ben was Xrayed for the first time and admitted to a ward.
Miss Thomas said: "I said about him falling out of my arms but the doctors said it must have been much more recent than that because swelling occurs between 24 and 48-hours of injury. In the end, we stopped mentioning the fall."
Ben was given an ultrasound scan, which showed fluid in the swelling, blood tests, and a CT scan which pinpointed the problem: a tiny skull fracture.
"The consultant paediatrician treating Ben completely changed his attitude when the CT scan results came back. He ordered a skeletal survey," Miss Thomas recalled.
"They were looking for other injuries. It meant they thought we were harming him."
No other injuries were found but Stockport social services - which operates under the name " Safeguarding" - were called in.
A woman social worker questioned the couple and other members of the family and when Mr Lamb's mother suggested the head injury could have something to do with the fall, the council official appeared shocked.
She said it was the first time she had heard about it. The consultant also claimed to have been kept in the dark.
Mr Lamb said: "I couldn't believe it. We had told our GP, the 24-hour doctor, the nurse, the A&E doctor and at least three other medical staff but it wasn't in the hospital notes.
"No one had written it down and they clearly thought we were making it up."
Even when the family's GP confirmed they had reported the fall to him, it seemed nothing could stop the wheels of officialdom.
Miss Thomas said: "The next day both our children were taken away. The social worker told us we had an hour to find a relative to have them or they would have to go into foster care.
"She said we should get separate solicitors in case we blamed each other. We were both in tears."
In the topsy turvy world of social services, Mr Lamb's protests at the shocking turn of events was later used as "proof" he had a temper.
Stockport Safeguarding immediately applied for an interim care order for both children and Manchester County Court ordered medical evidence to be produced.
To add to the couple's agony, they were questioned under caution by police. Neither of them had ever been in any sort of trouble before.
At a court hearing six weeks later, consultant paediatrician Ian Mecrow said Ben's skull fracture was "non-accidental."
Miss Thomas said: "We got permission to seek a second medical opinion but there were times we thought we would lose Ben and Caitlin for ever. It didn't seem to matter what we said, no one believed us."
It was just before Christmas when the second opinion arrived. Consultant paediatrician Alan Sprigg of Sheffield University said the scan taken of Ben's head did indeed show the swelling was the result of the baby's earlier fall.
It was, he said, a rare condition known as "late presentation."
The diagnosis was accepted by Mr Mecrow but it took another month for the couple to clear their names and they had to endure a sustained attack on their characters by counsel for social services.
But finally, on Friday February 1, four months after being parted, they were told they could take their children home.
Mr Lamb recalled: "The first thing we did was take Caitlin and Ben to a park to play so we could be a normal family again.
"We were so nervous. What would we do if either of them fell and hurt themselves? We would have to think long and hard about taking them to the doctors.
"We feel very bitter about what happened. Social services played God with us, ruined our lives, then walked away without even bothering to issue so much as an apology."
A spokesman for Stockport Council said: "The council is confident that its officers acted properly, entirely in the interests of the children. We firmly deny that any officer informed the parents to 'blame each other.'"
Source: Daily Mail (UK)