The Doctors Who Take Away Your Kids (30
30 Minutes investigates how thousands of children
have been taken way from their families by the state and put into
care, all on the basis of one doctor’s opinion.
30 Minutes: "The Doctors Who Take Away Your Kids" was
broadcast on Channel 4 on 19th June, 6pm
In England last year, nearly six thousand children were registered
at risk of physical abuse. But the figures vary hugely from place
to place. For example, a child in the Wirral is 13 times more likely
to be registered compared to a child in Oldham. Yet there’s
no evidence that parents in the Wirral are more abusive than those
The problem is that diagnosing abuse is far from an exact science.
It’s all down to the examining doctor’s opinion. And
some doctors are far more ready to diagnose child abuse than their
Andrea Colley had all three of her children taken into care – all
on the say-so of a vet. Three puppies had all died in the family
home, in mysterious circumstances. After post-mortems, the vet
decided the dogs had been deliberately killed.
He contacted the police who brought in Professor David Southall,
a renowned but controversial paediatrician who has frequently testified
in court as an expert witness on child abuse. Despite not meeting
the family, he diagnosed Andrea as suffering from Munchausen’s
Syndrome by Proxy, and a danger to her children who were then taken
Fortunately, a psychiatrist examined Andrea and disagreed with
Professor Southall. The children were returned home and eventually
Andrea’s husband admitted he had killed the dogs, while suffering
from a breakdown.
Harry was a perfectly normal, healthy little boy. There was no
evidence that he was at risk of abuse. When he fell off a sofa
onto his head, his parents insisted he have a brain scan. It showed
that he had suffered a serious brain haemorrhage. Doctors argued
that such a serious injury could only have been caused by a severe
blow – which was ruled out because Harry had no cuts or bruises – or
by being very severely shaken. With no other suspects in the frame,
his parents immediately fell under suspicion.
Harry was taken into care. But the doctors had made a terrible
mistake. Harry’s haemorrhage was actually due to a previously
undiagnosed condition he suffers from called platelet storage disorder.
After three months, Harry was returned to his parents. But they
are so worried he might have another accident – and be taken
away from them again – they make him wear a crash helmet
all the time.
GP James Le Fanu believes some doctors are too eager to diagnose
abuse. “There are certainly hardliners who’ve managed
to convince themselves that a particular pattern of injury is diagnostic
of child abuse,” he says.
It’s the fear of another Victoria Climbie catastrophe that
is forcing doctors to be more certain than the evidence warrants
and no one wants to send a child home to die. Paediatrician Mike
Coren from St Mary’s Hospital says pressure from the police
and the courts means doctors are just not allowed to admit when
they’re not sure.