Pump Court Chambers

Members appear for Prosecution and the Defence in complex child cruelty trial

News 28th February 2020

Sarah Jones QC / Frank Abbott and James Newton-Price QC / Andy Houston appear for the Prosecution and the Defence respectively in a long and complex child cruelty trial at Southampton Crown Court.


Sarah Jones QC and Frank Abbott prosecuted a female defendant who was charged with multiple offences of causing grievous bodily harm with intent and child cruelty in relation to a young child in her care, who was aged between three months and two years old at the relevant time. The defendant was represented by James Newton-Price QC and Andy Houston, instructed by Footner Ewing solicitors. The trial took place before HHJ Burrell QC at Southampton Crown Court between 13 January 2020 and 27 February 2020.


The Prosecution case was that the defendant had fabricated or exaggerated the child’s illnesses and health conditions (Munchausen’s by proxy) with the result that his growth, mobility and development was severely delayed. The defendant had complained to doctors that the child had profound respiratory and feeding problems with the result that he was placed on oxygen and feeding tubes into his intestine (nil by mouth) for two years. The child also suffered a fracture of the thigh bone and a subdural haemorrhage, both of which were alleged to have been non-accidental injuries caused by the mother. The defendant’s role in causing the child’s injuries and other health problems was only discovered when she was witnessed hitting his head against the floor of hospital ward in an apparent attempt to cause a nosebleed during a hospital admission. The incident was captured on video.


The defendant subsequently admitted assaulting the child in that incident, but she denied that she had fabricated other symptoms or that she had ever injured the child in any other way. The defence relied on the fact that the child had been genuinely unwell after his premature birth and highlighted evidence that doctors had recommended the most invasive medical interventions during the child’s multiple hospital admissions in London, Sussex and Southampton. The Prosecution asserted that those medical decisions were made on the basis of false or exaggerated information given by the defendant and relied on the expert evidence of eminent medical specialists in paediatrics radiology, neurology and respiratory medicine.  Once removed from the defendant’s care, the child had thrived and developed as any normal child should.


The trial presented complex and unusual medical issues. The defendant was eventually convicted by the Jury of all but one of the charges, following five days of deliberations.  Sentence has been adjourned for psychiatric reports.

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