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WARWICKSHIRE GIRL MUST STAY WITH MOTHER FINDS APPEAL COURT

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London's Appeal Court today exonerated a young mother and step-father from allegations that they ill-treated and be...
London's Appeal Court today exonerated a young mother and step-father from allegations that they ill-treated and beat their five-year-old daughter. The appeal court's ruling means the girl, now six, who has been living with foster parents for the past nine months, will now return to her mother's care in the Rugby area.

Lord Justice Waite upheld an earlier court ruling that ill- treatment claims against the mother, now 25, and step-father, three years her junior, had not been proved. He dismissed appeals brought by Warwickshire County Council, the girl's guardian, and her maternal grandparents, from a rural area in Strathclyde, Scotland.

The grandparents had sought an order that the girl be sent to live with them. The council was ordered to pay the mother and step- father's legal costs bills. Lord Justice Waite said the girl, then aged five years and seven months, was admitted for emergency treatment in Birmingham on January 1 this year.

'She had numerous bruises, was seriously underweight and was found to be suffering from a duodenal haematoma - a form of injury which could only have been caused by a violent blow or a heavy fall. The county council later obtained interim care orders and the girl, who may not be named for legal reasons, was placed with foster parents.

Lord Justice Waite said both the mother and step-father 'denied from the outset responsibility for any deliberate ill- treatment of the child'. 'Medical evidence gradually emerged to lend at least some support to their denials'. The bruising might have been due to the girl's 'exceptionally active and adventurous nature'.

Her weight-loss might have been caused by anorexic side- effects from treatment she was undergoing for immunity from tuberculosis from which her mother suffered, said the judge. And the duodenal haemotoma might have been attributeable to 'a fall she had suffered when scrambling in the bathroom a few days before her admission'.

But the Appeal Court heard County Council social workers remained convinced that the girl had been a victim of 'serious and repeated abuse in the mother's household'. After a 25-day trial before Mr Justice Ward earlier this year, that judge said he was 'not prepared to find that either of the girl's carers had beaten or starved her'.

Despite his 'misgivings', Mr Justice Ward ruled it was in the girl's best interests for her to be returned to her mother's care. It was that decision against which the local authority, the girl's guardian and her maternal grand-parents appealed.

But Mr Justice Ward was entitled to take a 'global view' and to rule that the girl's long-term welfare would be best served by returning her to her mother's care, Lord Justice Waite told the court. He said Mr Justice Ward was entitled on the evidence to take the view that 'the belting episode had not taken place and that the duodenal haematoma had not been caused by either of the parents'. Lord Justice Nourse agreed that the appeal be dismissed.

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