June 30, 2003
new-born baby was seized on the say-so of
BY: Sue Reid
ONE DAY Karen and Mark Haynes pray that a teenage girl, with the blue eyes of her mother, will walk through the door of the family home in Birmingham and into their waiting arms.
And after the tears and hugs, the couple will sit down with their daughter and relate a terrible story about her past and the reason she was adopted. It is a tale that would be more believable in the fictional world of Kafka or during the Salem witch-hunts of the 17th century.
'I will tell our daughter that she was seized from me 20 minutes after she was born,' says Karen. 'Two policemen stood guard by the labour ward as she was removed from my arms, although I fought to stop them.' Karen Haynes, 37, is one of hundreds of mothers in Britain who have had babies forcibly removed, adopted or put into care on the advice of the famous children's doctor, Professor Sir Roy Meadow. Her
daughter - Sarah - was taken after Karen was accused of suffocating the child's older brother, Robert, who died suddenly and mysteriously at four months old. Karen has never been charged with murder, and a police inquiry exonerated her. But Professor Meadow thought differently, his views held sway and she lost her daughter.
Today, Karen will be among a group of angry, bitter parents - many of whom have had their children taken from them - holding a protest at the High Court in London condemning the Professor's work and what has become known as Meadow's Law. This is the Professor's stated belief that 'one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, unless proven otherwise'.
The parents feel that after years of suffering and fruitless protest, their time has come. Following the release earlier this year of solicitor Sally Clark, wrongly convicted and jailed for killing her two baby sons, Meadow's work is under scrutiny as never before.
His evidence was critical in Mrs Clark's case.
He was also in the witness box at the trial of Trupti Patel, the pharmacist earlier this month accused of murdering three of her babies. The jury found her not guilty.
Now the 70-year-old professor, knighted for his services to child health, is being investigated by the General Medical Council to see if there is a case to answer.
Indeed, there are calls for a public inquiry to examine child protection proceedings involving Professor Meadow spanning more than a quarter of a century.
'This is much bigger than the Cleveland child abuse scandal of the 1980s when 95 children were wrongly taken from their homes,' says child welfare campaigner
'There is no part of this country where a household has not been touched.'
Beverley Beech, chairwoman of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services, says: 'It is, I believe, an underestimate to say hundreds of children have been taken away from their families. It must now run into thousands. I have seen with my own eyes new-born babies seized from their mothers in maternity wards.' THERE is no doubt that families have been devastated by Professor Meadow and his disciples.
Sometimes, their actions have been justifiable and saved a child from harm. But one only has to listen to Karen Haynes and others like her, to ask why so many have been accused.
Karen calls her daughter Sarah but does not know her new name or where she lives. She is not allowed to send her cards on her birthday but she carefully keeps
each one of them for her in a box.
How drastically her life has changed since 1998 when she and computer analyst Mark had their first child, Robert.
The pregnancy was planned and the baby longed for. The midwife's reports noted that there was an excellent relationship between Karen, a former bookkeeper, and
her new son.
'I was happier than I had ever been,' says Karen. But at four months Robert became ill. Mark was at work and Karen remembers how, at 12.30 one morning, she heard
her little son make gurgling noises.
'He was like a rag doll. I picked him up. He was very cold and seemed to be gasping for breath.' Karen called her GP and demanded a home visit. He arrived two hours later and afterwards said that Robert 'had a slightly feeble, high-pitched cry and intermittently his lower limbs were shaking a little but he appeared to be breathing relatively normally'.
However, his condition was serious enough to prompt the GP to call an ambulance. The paramedic recorded that the child smiled when his foot was tickled and
showed no signs of injury.
ROBERT'S condition deteriorated rapidly. A scan in hospital showed that there was some swelling to his brain. By 10pm he was slipping into a coma.
Two days later, the doctors turned off his life-support machine. Karen, talking in emotional bursts about the ghastly moment, says she held Robert's body and sobbed.
One week after Robert died, two policemen arrived on Karen's doorstep to take statements. The police took no further action, leaving the couple to grieve, to
try to pick up their lives and to think about trying for another baby.
Karen did conceive shortly afterwards, but when she was six months' pregnant a letter from Birmingham Social Services asked the couple to attend a child protection conference for their unborn baby.
The devastating news came out of the blue. Two leading paediatricians, one of them Professor Sir Roy Meadow, had been called in by social workers to sift through
evidence surrounding Robert's death. Meanwhile, an emergency protection order was obtained so that Karen's new baby would be taken into care immediately.
'I could feel her kicking inside me and yet I knew I was going to lose her.
Those two months were hell. It was barbaric,' says Karen, her voice tearful.
It was four months after Sarah's birth in February 2000 that a Birmingham family court met to decide on the child's future in the light of what had happened to her brother.
Crucially, Professor Meadow - who has never spoken to Karen or Mark personally - gave evidence. In his report he wrote: 'I believe that smothering was the probable cause of the severe illness, events and death.'
Another paediatrician, Peter Fleming, a leading professor at the Bristol Institute of Child Health, and three pathologists disagreed. They all said Karen had not murdered her son, but Justice Joy Bracewell 'preferred' the opinion of Professor Meadow.
Karen had, in effect, been found guilty without trial. There is no jury at a family court or any legal requirement to make sure of her guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.
After a second family court hearing five months later, Sarah was put up for adoption. In the meantime, Karen and Mark were allowed twice-weekly visits to their child at her foster carers'. 'Sarah had started to smile when we came into the room but the social workers started searching for new parents for her. It broke me,' recalls Karen.
The Hayneses were left childless.
They are afraid to have another child in case social services take him or her away. Karen remains in limbo - labelled a killer but with no action taken against her and no chance to clear her name. The cause of Robert's death remains a mystery. His parents believe it was heart failure.
'There is a reference in Robert's medical records to a hole in the heart,' explains Karen. 'In hospital, he was given a drug to bring down his brain swelling. The drug can infuence heart conditions and Robert was dosed with it at ten at night, just when he started to go downhill.' A post-mortem report noted that Robert's body had the marks of a defibrillator plate, used to kick-start a heart, but Birmingham Children's Hospital
has never explained to the Hayneses why it was used.
An inquest - which could clear Karen of infanticide - has never been held into Robert's sudden death. This week, the Birmingham Coroner's office could offer no reason for the extraordinary four year delay.
SO WHO is Professor Sir Roy Meadow? How has he risen to such prominence? And why, suddenly, are there so many doubts about his theories?
When not giving evidence in court, the professor spends his time gardening at his home in Yorkshire with his second wife, Marianne, while keeping in touch with his two grownup children in London. The son of an accountant from Wigan, Meadow was a grammar school boy who won a place at Oxford, emerging with a BA in physiology at 24.
He specialised in child health and became head of paediatrics at St James, Leeds. Although now retired, his work as an expert witness of some stature is well rewarded financially.
It was in 1977 that he wrote the paper in the medical bible, The Lancet, that was to change his life - and that of hundreds of others. It was entitled Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP): the Hinterlands of Child Abuse.
Meadow described two sick children whose symptoms had defied medical explanation.
In the first case, a mother had added some of her own blood to her child's urine sample. In the second, the mother had allegedly poisoned her toddler with excessive salt doses.
Both mothers were, said Meadow, classic sufferers of his newly coined malady MSbP. They were hurting their children deliberately to bring attention to themselves. The Lancet article attracted worldwide attention.
HAD the cause of sudden cot deaths and freak accidents involving children at last been discovered? Soon Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy was common parlance in
It was the new buzzword, the first thing mentioned when a parent was suspected of hurting or killing their child.
Soon, Meadow was a favourite on the list of paedetricians used to advise the Crown Prosecution Service. He warned that multiple cot deaths were suspicious events - and the numbers of the accused began to grow.
But his theory is supported by no scientific evidence. Despite this, Meadow's devastating mantra has spread far; through the ranks of gullible social workers,
other paediatricians, the police, even those in the judiciary charged with the task of overseeing child protection.
'They have been blinded by this unproven dogma,' insists Lisa Blakemore-Brown, a London academic and psychologist who has researched the methods of Meadow.
In the House of Lords recently, Earl Howe, the Opposition spokesman on health, accused the professor of inventing a 'theory without science' in MSbP and refusing to produce any real evidence to back it up.
Yet Professor Meadow has remained a star turn in the criminal courts and is even more at ease in the shadowy family courts where child protection matters are decided on.
Hearings are held in secrecy and gagging orders on mothers are enforced with the threat of contempt and imprisonment. Here, Meadow's beliefs have been promulgated for years. Sometimes he is the only expert to give evidence.
It wasn't until the case of solicitor Sally Clark that his views were seriously challenged. He told jurors that the chances of her losing two babies to cot death were 73 million to one, a figure he now accepts was inaccurate. Studies suggest the statistic is closer to
100 to one.
DAVID Drucker, another prominent doctor regularly consulted by police in infanticide cases, says Meadow's Law is 'totally wrong'. Cot death, insisted Dr Drucker, can be caused by faulty genes.
Despite the controversy over his role in the Clark case, Professor Meadow was hired as an expert in the Trupti Patel case. He advised the jury that 'cot death doesn't run in families' although Patel's grandmother lost five babies. The jury didn't accept his evidence.
Professor Meadow was last night unavailable for comment. The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed yesterday that he is still a medical expert they would use.
It is news that enrages the welfare campaigner Penny Mellor. She knows of six babies who have been removed from mothers at birth, 100 children forcibly removed
from their parents for adoption, and four mothers charged with killing their own offpspring.
'Their lives have been turned upside down by Professor Meadow and his supporters,' says Mellor.
From her Midlands home, 41-year- old Mellor cares for the women who are victims of Meadow's Law.
Mothers ring her at all hours, they sob down the phone from the family courts, or turn up on her doorstep at midnight when their child has been seized and all hope is lost.
'All of them have suffered because of incorrect or insufficiently proven allegations of Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy,' adds Mellor, a mother of eight.
Today, she will be there at the High Court protest with desperate parents seeking justice for themselves and their lost children. And at her side, with dreams of one day being reunited with her daughter, will be Karen Haynes.
& The true names of Karen and Mark Haynes have been withheld for legal reasons.
Mothers Against MSBP Allegations
Heart-To-Heart Discussion Group