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D-day for mother's 12-year 'child abuse' fight

A WOMAN accused of trying to murder her baby son will discover tomorrow whether she has won a 12-year legal fight for justice.

Regarded as a test case in Scots law, the landmark legal action challenges the controversial theory of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP), which she believes has resulted in thousands of parents being wrongly accused of child abuse.

"My son was only six months old. I'll never forget the day they took him away," said "Judith".

"I wrapped him in a blanket, gave him a kiss and handed him over to the social worker. He was three years old by the time we got him back."

She was accused of attempted murder, her two children were taken into care and she launched what was to become a long court battle.

Her nightmare began in September 1993, when her son stopped breathing and was rushed to Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Over the next few months, he suffered from vomiting and interrupted breathing. She said he was a victim not of violence, but of problems relating to Cisapride, a drug that has since been withdrawn in the UK.

After her children were placed with foster carers, a family court ruled that "on the balance of probabilities" she was responsible for the attacks. However, no criminal charges were brought and after two years both her son and daughter were returned home.

Judith took legal action against the Scottish Children's Reporters Administration (SCRA), the body responsible for placing the children in care. Lawyers for the 42-year-old claim that fresh evidence, not available at the original hearing, will prove that she is innocent.

After more than 100 days of evidence and an estimated 1 million of public money, a sheriff will rule tomorrow whether or not Judith is the victim of a miscarriage of justice. A spokeswoman for SCRA refused to comment.

The mother-of-four was linked with the now infamous condition, MSBP - a theory which suggests some parents deliberately harm their children to draw attention to themselves. She says she was labelled with MSBP following the intervention of a number of doctors, including the controversial paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow.

He was involved in the prosecution of Sally Clark, who was jailed for murdering her two sons. He said the chances of two children dying of cot death were one in 73 million. She was cleared on appeal. Scotland's leading child-abuse expert, Professor John Stephenson, who is also a proponent of MSBP, is central to Judith's case and gave evidence in the original hearing more than a decade ago. He was called back to give evidence in this latest legal challenge at Glasgow Sheriff Court. He declined to comment on the case yesterday.

Massimo Franchi, the woman's solicitor, said MSBP had left a damaging legacy. "If my client wins, every other case of MSBP could be called into question. There are 30 years of accusations to come out."

• Names have been changed to protect the identity of the children.

Women's hopes of reclaiming children pinned on ruling

A DOZEN Scottish mothers whose children were taken into care are eagerly awaiting the outcome of tomorrow's landmark abuse case.

An investigation by The Scotsman in 2004 revealed that 12 parents in Scotland had been accused of having the controversial condition Munchausen's syndrome by proxy (MSBP), resulting in 19 children being placed in care.

The new judgment, due to be heard at Glasgow Sheriff Court tomorrow, might pave the way for other mothers who claim that they were wrongly accused of harming their children to take legal action.

One of the mothers, whose two daughters were adopted following allegations of abuse, said she would never give up hope of having her girls returned to her.

"These allegations have ripped families apart. This case will have massive implications for all of us," she said.

"If this woman wins, it will allow other mothers to sue the doctors and social workers who took our children away from us.

"It may be the first such case in Scotland, but it will not be the last."

Eric Scott, an Edinburgh-based solicitor, is representing two women whose lives were blighted following allegations of child abuse.

He believes that the Scottish children's panel system has failed youngsters. "I would like to see all these cases independently reviewed," he said. "With anything involving Munchausen, they should open up the files.

"We will be watching this case very closely to see if any legal action can be taken."

As many as 5,000 children in England and Wales are said to have been taken into local authority care during the past 15 years in cases linked to MSBP.

 
 
 

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