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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
There are times when members of our team are involved in cases which remain with them for life. For Joanne Soar, who specialises in public law for children, that case is X County Council v AB & CD  EWFC 98. Described by the presiding judge, Mr Justice Keehan as “undoubtedly one of the worst cases of child abuse which it has been my misfortune to have dealt with in 30 years at the Bar and then on the Bench”, this shocking case of child abuse illustrates some of the worst sides of human nature.
X County Council v AB & CD had a significant impact on public law relating to children, not least because it considered Disassociated Identity Disorder (formally known as Split Personality Disorder) in the context of child abuse. The decision and Joanne’s (who acted for the infant) work on the matter shows that we don’t just know the law…#wemakeit.
The case involved the horrific abuse of a baby in her first month or so of life. Tragically, the infant (H) has been left with permanent life-changing injuries and will never live independently. The parents met in March 2013 and in June of the same year, the mother (AB), discovered she was pregnant with H. Both parents told the Court they were delighted, and that the day of H’s birth was the best day of their lives.
However, things soon took a tragic turn.
H presented at the hospital six times in the first 40 days of her life. The first two times were for jaundice. The third time H was taken to hospital, the parents brought her in because they were concerned that she was not moving her right leg. Nothing untoward was found and H was discharged two days later.
It was on the fifth admission that X-rays showed that H had suffered various bone fractures. In the early hours of 20 March 2014, H was taken to hospital in a critical condition and transferred to intensive care.
Her injuries were described in the reported case as follows:
(a) A fracture of the neck of the left second rib at the inferior aspect which was caused between 13 and 20 February 2014, when H was between five days and twelve days old.
(b) Fractures of the posterior ends of the left fourth and fifth rib which was caused between 20 and 27 February 2014, when H was between 12 days and 19 days old.
(c) A metaphyseal fracture of the right proximal tibia and an associated metaphyseal fracture of the right distal femur which were caused on around 5 or 6 March, when H was 25 or 26 days old.
(d) A subperiosteal haemorrhage of the right tibia associated with the metaphyseal fractures.
(e) A greenstick fracture of the right distal radius which was caused in the period of 5 March to 21 March, when H was between 25 and 41 days old.
(f) Subdural haemorrhages along the posterior falx, the tentorium over both cerebral hemispheres and in the posterior fossa which were caused on 19 or 20 March, when H was 39 or 40 days old.
(g) Brain injury, consisting of swelling of the brain, separation of the sutures and severe hypoxic ischemic damage caused in the same event as (f) above.
(h) Spinal injuries involving subdural haemorrhage of the lower lumbar and sacral spinal canal and abnormalities to the paraspinal muscles adjacent to the spine and consistent with inflicted injury, most probably linked to the events at (f) above.
The medical experts agreed that all of H’s injuries resulted from episodes of inflicted trauma.
Expert evidence showed that the father (CD), who suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child, believed he had developed Disassociated Identity Disorder (DID). Expert evidence stated:
"CD referred on a number of occasions to a ghost-like person, a man called M, who has taken over his body since he was a child. Later, on direct questioning, he explained his understanding of M, whom he told me he believed was there to help him deal with his traumatic childhood, in particular physical abuse and emotional neglect from his father. CD's explanation to me about M was consistent with that reported in his medical reports and other filed documents in these proceedings. Apart from CD's report about M, he denied perceptual abnormalities such as hallucinations and delusions…"
CD claimed he had no memory of injuring H and that M assaulted her.
AB told the Court that her relationship with CD was extremely important and throughout her evidence she claimed:
(a) she had not heard anything that alarmed her
(b) save for her right leg, she could not think of any other occasion when H appeared to be in pain; and
(c) she had never heard H screaming.
All three claims were deemed to be lies.
Justice Keehan found that CD had caused H’s injuries not M. This conclusion was based on a distressing video which showed CD bouncing and jiggling H without providing any support for her head. The Court ruled that evidence showed that rather than the actions of a young and inexperienced parent, there was a sadistic element to CD’s abuse of H.
Regarding AB, Justice Keehan concluded that she had “grossly failed to protect H”. Although she did not inflict any injuries on H herself, she lied to protect CD.
Joanne’s role in this harrowing case was to protect H’s best interests. In this she succeeded; the Court ruled that the father was a “dangerous man” and excluded him from being a carer for H. The mother was not ruled out as being a carer at a future date; however, the findings against her were said to be of the “highest order of seriousness”.
In commenting on her involvement in the case, Joanne said:
“Seldom in the field of family law does a solicitor come across a case so appalling in nature. Acting on behalf of the child, who’s life has been forever changed by the injuries sustained at the hands of her father, it was my duty to detail the harrowing, prolonged abuse to which this new-born child was subjected.”
“H’s father attempted to use DID as a defence in an attempt to absolve himself of any culpability, however the videos submitted in evidence – possibly the most damning and disturbing treatment of a baby I have seen – demonstrated that not only was CD completely lucid when abusing his daughter, but that, shockingly, both parents found this to be amusing.”
Although H is now in a safe and caring environment, the emotional impact of this case stays with me to this day and, as a mother of two, has provided me with renewed resolve to represent my clients as best I can."