Brittle bones 'are being diagnosed as child abuse'
By Tara Womersley

Wednesday 18 October 2000

Daily Telegraph

A DOCTOR claimed yesterday that children were being placed into care needlessly after a judge ruled that twins taken from their parents were not abused but suffered from brittle bones.

Dr Colin Patterson, an expert on bone disease, said that there was a lack of knowledge about a condition that causes children to suffer repeated fractures for no apparent reason. Temporary brittle bone disease is found in babies, usually up to a year old, but because the condition stops, along with the fractures, as the child grows injuries may be put down as abuse.

Sheriff John Stewart ruled this week that twin boys from Lanarkshire should be returned to their parents after almost two years apart. The babies were put in the care of relatives almost two years ago aged seven months after doctors claimed that they were the victims of shaken baby syndrome. The parents , who have not been named for legal reasons, are considering suing the authorities and individuals involved.

Abuse was determined after the babies were examined at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, in January 1999 and Dr Christine Hall, a consultant paediatric radiologist was also called in from London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children for advice.

Dr Patterson, who gave evidence at the hearing deciding the twin's fate, has been involved in 103 similar cases of which 78 of the children involved have been returned to their homes. He said: "Temporary brittle bone disease means that a child can suffer multiple fractures and suddenly there are no more fractures, which may be thought to show the presence of child abuse. But it is a medical condition.

"There needs to be more recognition. It is not at all uncommon and I have come across a number of cases in the past 15 to 20 years. We do not know how common it is as there are cases that you never hear about and you could not examine the X-rays of every three-year-old. In this case, the babies were twins which is one risk factor of the disease and they were also premature which is another risk factor."

In January 1999 the twins' mother and father were told to hand over their babies to foster parents but they persuaded the authorities to let relatives look after them instead. The couple moved out of their home and were allowed two hours access to the twins each day if accompanied by a social worker.

By May they were granted longer access, under the supervision of relatives who had also been totally cleared of any involvement of abuse, but the home had been installed with alarms to ensure that they were never alone with the children.

Paul Reid, a Glasgow-based solicitor acting on behalf of the parents, said he believed that the twins' case was the "tip of an iceberg" and added that their parents just wanted to return to normality. He said "sitting in a darkened room examining X-rays is not a way to diagnose abuse. We were very fortunate to have a sheriff of such experience who would not be intimidated by the formidable medical evidence."

The Children's Panel Reporter for South Lanarkshire, who argued that the twins fractures were non-accidental, is considering appealing against the ruling. Dr Hall, one of three consultant paediatric radiologists, who acts as an expert witness in cases of alleged non-accidental injury, said that she was surprised by the sheriff's verdict.

She said: "I have been involved in 1,000 cases across England and I base my professional judgment on the X-rays provided for me. The broad consensus of medical opinion is that there is no such condition as temporary brittle bones."