Family court litigation halted as baby's rare medical condition discovered

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Social services bosses who thought a baby had been shaken have halted family court litigation after discovering that she was suffering from a rare medical condition which causes "easy bruising", a judge has said.

Judge Karen Venables said Craig Stillwell and Carla Andrew, who are both in their early twenties, lived through months of "unimaginable horror" after their daughter Effie collapsed when about five months old in August 2016.

Effie had been placed with a foster carer, Mr Stillwell had been arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm and social workers had wanted Effie to be taken into council care.

But experts had established that Effie suffered from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type IV (EDS IV) - a condition characterised by "thin and translucent skin, easy bruising, vascular and arterial rupture" - and council bosses had subsequently withdrawn an application to take Effie into care, said Judge Venables.

Detail of the case has emerged in a ruling by Judge Venables following a family court hearing in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

The judge has named Effie and her parents and said bosses at Buckinghamshire County Council had launched family court proceedings.

She said Effie's parents had asked her to deliver an "open judgment" to encourage discussion of EDS IV.

Judge Venables said Effie was the first child diagnosed with EDS IV to be subject of a family court "forensic inquiry".

She said Effie's mother had also been diagnosed as suffering from EDS.

Judge Venables said she had analysed evidence at a hearing lasting more than 10 days earlier this month.

"The working hypothesis of the local authority at the outset of these proceedings was that this child had been subject to an inflicted injury, most likely consistent shaking with a force that falls outside the range of normal handling. In consequence of which Effie suffered subdural and retinal haemorrhages and encephalopathy," said Judge Venables.

"However as the hearing progressed the weight of the medical evidence shifted away from the hypothesis of inflicted injury to a direct or indirect causal link to the complex syndrome EDS IV."

She said Effie was "now reported to be thriving".

The judge said it had been "necessary" to consider forensic evidence against "the wider canvas".

But she added: "It is clear from the parents' engagement with the medical services before her collapse that she was a precious baby, adored by both parents. In my view they acted entirely appropriately at the time of her collapse seeking medical assistance in timely fashion. They worked openly with the doctors on admission to hospital."

She said the couple had shown "maturity and restraint" in their dealings with professionals and went on: "I consider that Effie's collapse was most likely the consequence of a naturally evolving disease either in the form of a spontaneous rebleed after haemorrhage at birth or in consequence of the lower injury threshold and an event consistent with normal handling."

The judge said Mr Stillwell had been arrested after becoming "angry and distressed" in the hours after Effie was admitted to hospital.

She said it was "perhaps unfortunate" that events had escalated to a point where a policeman thought an arrest necessary.