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Family Disrupted

March 24, 2012 permalink

British parents David and Julie Nevin lost their son Reilly for eleven months because he got a bruise hitting his head on furniture.



Social workers took away our baby for nine months: With no evidence against them, couple were banned from looking after their son

David and Julie Nevin
Outrage: David and Julie Nevin had their son taken from them by social workers for nine months after they were wrongly accused of having hit him

When Julie Nevin put her only son to bed in late December 2010, he was seven months old.

The next time she was allowed to perform that simple act, Reilly was a 16-month-old toddler.

She and her husband David lost nine months of their little boy’s life after social services took him away over a minor bruise on his forehead.

They believed Mr and Mrs Nevin may have slapped their beloved son, with the couple at one point being arrested on suspicion of assault and subjected to the humiliation of police taking their DNA, fingerprints and mugshots – despite all the initial checks coming back clear.

The couple’s nightmare only ended when a consultant paediatrician belatedly conceded that the bruising had most likely been caused by the little boy accidentally bumping into the metal legs of the family’s sofa – as they had originally suggested.

A judge dismissed the council’s application for a care order, ruling that Reilly was already a ‘well-cared for child’, and his parents were allowed to take him home.

Last night the Nevins told how their lives had been ‘turned upside down’ by the horrific experience, and called for an urgent overhaul of the child protection system.

Mrs Nevin, 40, who works for the Red Cross, said: ‘Reilly left us as a baby and came back as a toddler. We have had to start all over again. For nine months we came back to an empty house, it was very distressing.’

‘The whole system is loaded against parents. You are guilty until proven innocent. Nobody believed us apart from our GP. Our backgrounds and medical history were checked and there was nothing.’

David and Julie Nevin with son
Catch up: David and Julie are finally getting some time to play with their son

She added: ‘We felt we were stuck in a system in which social workers were ticking the right boxes just to make them look as if they were working.’

The couple’s ordeal began on Christmas Eve 2010, when Reilly woke up at the family’s semi-detached bungalow in the village of Rhos, near Swansea, with a minor bruise on his forehead.

Mrs Nevin called her husband, a manager in a dairy company, who advised her to take Reilly to their family doctor to be on the safe side. The GP concluded he was a ‘well, bright and lively’ child who had probably hurt himself rolling around the sitting room floor, and that there was no evidence that the injury was deliberate.

But five days later, Mrs Nevin took Reilly for a check-up at a medical centre, and staff referred him to the paediatric assessment unit at Morriston Hospital in Swansea. There, a consultant paediatrician suggested a slap could have caused the bruise, describing it as a ‘non-accidental suspicious injury’.

His parents rejected this and gave other possible explanations, including him hitting his face on the metal legs of the sofa, or on his cot bars, or on his toys.

But Mrs Nevin said: ‘Although the paediatricians did not say it in so many words, they thought we had slapped him.’

Reilly stayed in hospital for two nights for observation and tests, including one for shaken baby syndrome, which all came back clear. Despite this, the devastated couple were told they were not allowed to take Reilly home because of concerns about his safety.

Arrangements were made for the baby to stay with relatives, initially his uncle and aunt. Reilly then spent the next nine months being fostered by Mrs Nevin’s parents, who live a few miles away from Rhos, with a social worker acting as his legal guardian.

The couple were allowed to see their son, but only on a strict schedule, and they had to be supervised at all times. They visited each day but overnight stays were banned.

Reilly Nevin
Innocent: Reilly had a bruise on his forehead - which social services believed may have been caused by a slap

Mr Nevin, 48, said: ‘On the first day, we got back home and we just hugged each other in the kitchen and cried. Even though it was New Year’s Eve, we were in bed by 8pm and cried all night.’

Then in February last year, the couple were arrested for suspected assault. A few weeks later however, police told the Nevins the case was being dropped because of lack of evidence. Despite this, social services still sought a care order and told the couple Reilly might be put up for adoption.

Over the next few months, the couple, who have been married for nearly four years, attended the family court in Swansea four times to try to get Reilly back. A second consultant paediatrician, instructed by Reilly’s guardian, initially told the hearing the bruising was caused ‘most probably by a hand slap’.

But after various alternatives were put to him he changed his evidence, conceding the bruising was narrower than he would have expected if Reilly had been slapped. He eventually said he believed the most likely cause was Reilly bumping against a sofa leg.

District Judge Jane Garland-Thomas dismissed the care order application, ruling that Neath Port Talbot Council had failed to prove the injury was non-accidental and that there was ‘no evidence whatsoever’ of any other causes of concern.

She added: ‘Reilly was a well-cared for and no doubt still is a well-cared for baby and these parents have been totally compliant and engaged fully with the social services.’

Morriston Hospital
Scene: Morriston Hospital in Swansea, where it was suggested that Reilly may have been struck on the head

Finally, on September 27 last year, the couple were able to take Reilly home.

Nearly six months later, Mr and Mrs Nevin are still recovering from the pain of being separated from Reilly for nearly a year.

They have written to the Prime Minister asking for changes to child protection procedures, highlighting the ‘stress, heartache, family upset and depression’ they suffered.

Mrs Nevin, who was prescribed anti-depressants, said: ‘He is the most loved child ever. But I still don’t think I have got over it. I am even afraid to take Reilly to the doctor now.’

A spokesman for Neath Port Talbot Council said: ‘We take safeguarding of children extremely seriously. We are satisfied that all appropriate actions were taken.’

Source: Daily Mail

Christopher Booker comments on the Nevin case, and on the use of experts in family court generally.



Why do our family courts rely on 'hired gun’ experts?

Recent revelations bring the authority of expert witnesses called by social services into severe doubt.

David and Julie Nevin with son Reilly
David and Julie Nevin of Swansea, with their 22-month-old son Reilly
Photo: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency

There was one highly unusual thing about the newspaper report yesterday on a Welsh couple, David and Julie Nevin, whose young son was removed by social workers for nine months, with a view to possible adoption. Two paediatricians had suggested that a small bruise on the boy’s forehead was caused by parental abuse – but, in this very exceptional instance, a judge found the doctors’ evidence unconvincing and ordered the boy to be returned to his parents. Hundreds of similar cases each year remain unreported because the evidence of “experts” is almost invariably accepted by the courts.

Devastating new light was recently shed on the “expert” evidence on which our courts so crucially rely by Professor Jane Ireland’s report analysing 126 psychological reports used in family cases. A fifth of their authors, the study found, had no proper qualifications; 90 per cent were not in practice but earned their living from producing reports for social workers, and two thirds of the results were “poor” or “very poor” in quality.

The publication of this damning report, which had been delayed for six months, coincided with the reporting to the General Medical Council of another psychological “expert”, Dr George Hibbert, accused of writing hundreds of reports framed to suit the views of social workers. He had allegedly earned £6,000 a week for each family he was asked to “assess”.

A charge commonly heard against these psychiatric and medical “experts”, endorsed by countless informed observers, is that too many of them are just “hired guns”, regularly employed by social workers to come up with the evidence they need to justify removing children from their parents. Naturally, those in charge of the system are anxious to deny such claims. In 2009, Lord Justice Wall, now our senior family judge, went out of his way, in one well-publicised case (W (Children) EWCA Civ59), to claim that to regard experts as “hired guns” was “a misconception”: their impartiality was a glory of our family justice system. Yet that very case, involving the Webster family, has become a byword for the fallibility of “experts”.

Three children were taken from their parents after metaphyseal bone fractures in one of them had been diagnosed as evidence of parental abuse. When the parents refused to admit to this, a psychiatric “expert” testified that this showed they must be guilty of both physical and psychological abuse. The children were sent separately for adoption.

When the wife again became pregnant, the parents escaped to Ireland to avoid the baby being taken. But they also began to track down independent experts who might take a more informed view than that accepted by the court. Eventually no fewer than five experts, including one of the most respected paediatricians in the land, testified that the bone fractures came from natural causes. This led to the parents being allowed to keep their fourth child. But Wall ruled that, though the case was clearly distressing, it was too late to return the adopted children.

In another published judgment in 2010 (EWHC B12), Mr Justice Bellamy summarised a case that cost taxpayers more than £1 million, involving three children removed from their parents by Coventry council. Social services, which had been intervening in the family’s life for 10 years, found a psychiatrist who reported, on the basis of medical records, that the parents had been fabricating various medical conditions. Bellamy, in his judgment, excoriated this 235-page report, for which the “expert” was paid £35,000, and ordered that the children be returned to their parents.

Last year, however, Bellamy ordered the publishing of another judgment (EWHC 2011 B8), in a case I had several times reported, which arguably showed that he too was susceptible to experts whose one-sided evidence had not been questioned. The judgment (continaining several remarks directed at me, some of which he later had to retract) ordered the removal of a baby from its devoted mother, accusing her of having harmed her child, on evidence remarkably similar to that which proved so flawed in the Webster case.

I now have files full of similar examples of families torn apart on the basis of “expert” evidence. Only very occasionally do these get publicity, via a higher court. Last year, for instance, the Court of Appeal overturned a ruling by Judge Orrell that three children should be removed from their parents. It had been arrived at after a 15-minute hearing where a medical expert testified that bruising on one child could possibly have been caused by “pinching”. The parents had not been allowed to challenge this evidence. Mr Justice Thorpe memorably observed: “I am completely aghast at this case. There is nothing more serious than a removal hearing, because the parents are so prejudiced in proceedings thereafter. Once you lose a child it is very difficult to get a child back.”

The removal of children into care by what the BBC calls our “brave” social workers is now at a record level of some 900 a month. In a Commons debate last week, Jonathan Djanogly, a junior Justice minister, stated in answer to John Hemming MP that some 90 per cent of these family care proceedings rely on the evidence of expert witnesses, the average case being based on four such reports. These make for their authors a remarkaby good living. (A senior paediatrician, a doctor tells me, can receive £100,000 for writing one.)

Recent evidence seems to confirm there is much more here which those professionals whom Mr Djangogly described as “stakeholders” would not wish to see exposed to public view.

Source: Telegraph (UK)