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The Curious Case of the chopped up chocolate

Although this case has some quirky elements, I remind myself and inform the readers immediately that it is also a deeply tragic case where a young child died.

A Local Authority v AA [2022] EWHC 1596 (Fam) (15 June 2022)

The High Court was considering a case involving 3 children, X, Y and Z. There were allegations that all three children had been the victims of mistreatment by one of the parents, that in effect the parent had intentionally suffocating them, and in the case of X this led to her death. In terms of the chronology, the episodes of suffocation to Z happened in years subsequent to the death of X.

Both of the parents had a significant medical history. In the case of the mother, it was very severe allergies (including nut allergies) such that she would need to use an epipen. Prior to meeting with the father, she had these allergies under control, but in the course of a 4 year relationship with the father, she had 19 episodes where she had to seek medical attention, including A and E admissions.

The father had been diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 7 (though there was some doubt about the accuracy of this diagnosis within the proceedings) and had had from the age of birth to the time of the proceedings 117 A and E admissions. The father had regular seizures within childhood, though none were ever seen by the doctors or school (ie they were all either self-reports or reports by his mother)

The parents separated, and there were allegations by the mother of abusive behaviour by the father, including episodes where he tried to strangle her and smother her with a pillow.

She says that in September 2021, when she was searching for the Father’s glasses case, she found a syringe full of blood in his glasses case. She challenged the Father about it, showing him the photo that she had taken of it, and he said he knew nothing about it.
She then searched on top of the kitchen cupboards, which she could not reach without climbing on a chair, and she found two chocolate bars (a snickers and a bounty) which had been chopped into small slices with a sharp knife and she took a photo. She produced the photo of this, with clear signs that the bars had been cut with the knife. She said she found this “suspicious” but could not explain what she was suspicious of. She raised this with the Father, but when he simply denied knowing anything about it, she took no further action.

(Remember in relation to this that (a) mother had a serious nut allergy and (b) that her allergies had been under control until she was in the relationship with the father (c) that after the relationship with father began that she had 19 significant episodes of allergic reaction and of course that (d) snickers and bounty are chocolate bars which contain nuts)

The Court examined the expert analysis and the evidence given by the parents, and made findings that the father had indeed inflicted injuries on Z by suffocation, and X by suffocation which caused X’s death

  1. 148. I have reached the conclusion that the Father killed X through suffocation and induced the three episodes when Z received emergency medical treatment. The evidence of induction is less clear in respect of Y. I accept Dr Samuels’ view that it is not possible to reach a finding of induced illness in respect of Y.
  2. 149. The Father’s psychological motivations for these actions is not a matter I intend to speculate upon. Equally, whether the suffocation of X was an attempt to induce illness and then medical attention which went wrong is impossible to know. These matters may be of great interest to a psychologist, but they are not necessary for me to determine.

159….there is a clear pattern of the Father seeking medical attention when there is no evidence of any objective cause. There are, as set out above and in detail in the CLINCO report, a truly extraordinary number of medical presentations for the Father with very little, if any, evidence of underlying medical causes. The psychological reasons behind this presentation is unfathomable, and ultimately not my task to determine. It seems likely that it is some form of medical attention seeking, but the degree of conscious or unconscious motivation is unknowable. However, according to Dr Robinson and Dr Fear there can be some correlation between such behaviour and FII. On a fairly basic level, if the Father is constantly seeking medical attention for himself because of some underlying psychological need, then that may well give rise to the same pattern of behaviour with the children. It might be, in some cases, that this would be an instance of extreme anxiety leading to exaggeration. However, here the Father’s lies and the fact that the incidents only occur when he is alone with the children points strongly to induced rather than exaggerated disorders.

and that he had deliberately induced allergic reactions in the mother.

I have also reached the view that the only rational explanation for the chopped up chocolate bar is that the Father was inducing serious allergic reactions in the Mother. The Mother has undoubtedly had a great many serious allergic reactions since she has been in a relationship with the Father. It is noteworthy that she had her allergies under control until she met him. It is simply not possible to decide what proportion of the allergic reactions were induced by the Father. It may be that she became more susceptible for a period after the children were born. However, 19 such reactions in a five year period for someone who was very careful is a surprisingly high number. Added to that is the coincidence of timing, that the reactions only came on after she met the Father. Critically, there is simply no other rational explanation for the chocolate bar incident, bizarre though it is.

The Court found that there had been a failure to protect the children by the mother.

  1. 170. I do, however, find that the Mother has failed to protect the children, not merely to the degree accepted by Mr Samuels in her remaining in abusive relationship. I take into account the need to be careful about “hindsight bias” and not expect the Mother to have understood events she did not see. However, she was fully aware that the Father was not just aggressive and violent to her, but also that he was a persistent and determined liar. He was presenting himself as a loving partner when he was violently abusing her. On one occasion she says he tried to hit her when Y was in her arms. Despite X’s death and the younger children being taken into care after an ALTE to Z, she still waited another 17 months before informing the professionals about the abuse.
  2. 171 At the lowest, the Mother failed to protect the children because she was in a highly abusive household, and she seems to have taken no steps to protect the children from the emotional abuse that was going on, and on at least one occasion the physical abuse which could have impacted on Y.
  3. 172 However, beyond that, the Mother was living in a house with the Father when he was calling the emergency services on a truly extraordinary number of occasions, either for himself or the children. Her reaction to this is impossible to understand. Perhaps, as she suggested, she had become completely normalised to it, but in a situation where one child had died, her complete lack of curiosity or questioning about what was happening, is in my view itself a failure to protect. This is the distinction from some of the other cases. The Mother knew X had died when the Mother was asleep. Her failure to question the Father when similar incidents started with Z is in my view a failure to protect.
  4. 173 Her failure to properly investigate or question the Father about the chocolate and the syringes again indicates a lack of curiosity and passivity that gives no confidence in her ability to protect the children. Albeit, by the time of those episodes the children had been removed from her care.
  5. 174 Mr Samuels says that the Father was a determined and manipulative liar and he had managed to hide his behaviour from all the professionals. But the key point in my view is that the Mother knew that he was manipulative and untruthful and therefore was not in the same position as the professionals. In the light of that knowledge, her failure to apparently ask any questions of the Father about what was happening to the children or raise her knowledge of the Father’s conduct with the professionals is in my view a failure to protect the children

Decisions have not yet been made about the long-term future of Y and Z, this was the fact finding element of the case.

I don’t think I’ve encountered a case anything like this before. I’ve seen, though they are rare, cases where the parent themselves appears to have had significant hospital admissions lacking solid explanation themselves as a child and then go on to cause harm to a child that would lead to the need for medical intervention and the attention and drama that ensues, but I’ve not seen one where a parent does this not only to the children but to a partner as well.

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

3 responses

  1. I suppose the vital question here is for readers to decide which chocolate bar they prefer , Snickers or Bounty .I myself would prefer Snickers but would never cut it into slices with a knife .I think that sums up my position………..

  2. The Daddy in this case sounds like a potential serial killer.Surely if the allegations against him have been proved he should be locked up? I can’t see any decision on this in the extract printed on this site.

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