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Parents cleared by High Court following death of child with rickets

Detailed summary by Jo Delahunty QC and Kate Purkiss with Christopher McWatters published on Family Law Week

Mrs Justice Theis in the High Court has ordered a child to be returned to her parents after she was removed at birth following the death of her brother in 2009. This marked the conclusion of criminal and child protection proceedings which rested on disputed medical expert evidence on the cause of his injuries.

Jayden Wray died at Great Ormond Street hospital in July 2009, aged 4.5 months old. His parents, Chana Al-Alas and Rohan Wray, were accused of his murder. In October 2010 their daughter, was removed at birth by social services.

At their trial in December 2011, Al-Alas and Wray were cleared of murder charges following expert evidence that Jayden suffered from rickets caused by a vitamin D deficiency and that it was this medical condition which caused his injuries. Today, the High Court in London has accepted this evidence and cleared the couple of any wrong doing, paving the way for Jayda to return home.

Both the criminal case and child protection proceedings rested on the issue of how Jayden came to suffer his serious injuries. As in so many cases where parents have been wrongly accused of harming their infant child, expert opinion was polarised over the cause of Jayden's death.   Experts for the Crown failed to identify that the injuries Jayden sustained in his short life were not caused by his parents but by an undiagnosed vitamin D deficiency that had led to rickets. His condition was eventually recognised by pathologists Dr Scheimberg and Dr Rouse who conducted the post mortem on behalf of the coroner. Their opinions were ignored by the Crown but they were called to give evidence on behalf of the defence.

Ms Al-Alas and Mr Wray expressed delight and relief that they can finally be allowed to grieve for their son and be reunited with their daughter. The nightmare of Jayden's death was compounded by the criminal investigation and then the loss of the daughter, without being able to bond with her following her birth. The couple said that the subsequent child protection proceedings in relation to Jayda caused them to relive Jayden's death in court once again.

Ms Al-Alas was represented by Jo Delahunty QC, of 4 Paper Buildings, and Kate Purkiss, of Coram Chambers, instructed by Goodman Ray, and Mr Wray was represented by Ian Peddie QC and Christopher McWatters, both of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by SA Carr & Co. Counsel for Jayda was Vinod Sharma of BKS Legal Solicitors. The local authority was represented by Mark Love and Lyndsey Sambrooks-Wright, both of 2 Dr Johnson's Building.

Ann Thompson of Goodman Ray acted for Chana Al-Alas in the family law case. Speaking after today's decision, she said:

"Nothing is as sad as the death of a child. But for these parents the nightmare went on and on. Our experience in cases such as these highlights the importance of expert evidence but also in knowing the limits of scientific knowledge in this complex and developing area, a fact recognised by most of the experts. For this reason it is of the utmost importance to approach these cases with an open mind, not to rush to judgment but from the start to look at all possible causes. Had this happened in this case I do not believe these parents would have had to undergo this ordeal.

"Without legal aid funding it would not have been possible to obtain the evidence that lead to my client being cleared in the criminal case and then on the even more stringent criteria in the family law case.

"The parents have now been  exonerated.  The judgment will be published. It is an important judgment especially given the proliferation of vitamin D deficiency in this country at the moment and the lack of research on the implications of this, which is an area of research that the Judge has strongly encouraged.

"The science in these cases is complex and sometimes there is dispute about a cause of death, a proposition ignored by the Crown and latterly the Local Authority. Such was the belief in the parents guilt that it was initially overlooked that Jayden was suffering from vitamin D deficiency that had led to severe, but undiagnosed rickets. This condition was identified by pathologists Dr Scheimberg and Dr Rouse who had conducted the post mortem on behalf of the coroner. Even when confirmed, their opinions were ignored by the Crown and they had to be called to give evidence on behalf of the defence."

To read the judgment please click here. It is preceded by a detailed summary of the judgment written by Jo Delahunty QC, Kate Purkiss with the assistance of Christopher McWatters.