Falsely accused parents awarded costs

The parents of a child with vitamin D deficiency who was taken by authorities on a false suspicion of abuse have been awarded legal costs of more than $125,000.

The girl's mother hopes the case will encourage the medical profession to test diagnoses before coming to a conclusion of child abuse.

The care and protection order imposed in November 2011 was overturned last September by High Court judge Justice Graham Panckhurst, who has now made the costs order.

Justice Panckhurst said in a written finding last year it was ''very unlikely'' the former Dunedin couple caused the then 14-week-old's injuries.

The parents, who now live in the North Island, cannot be identified.

In his written finding of February 27 on the matter of costs, Justice Panckhurst noted that successfully appealing the complex case had involved the attendance of a United Kingdom expert who gave evidence at the appeal in Dunedin last July.

The Ministry of Social Development has been ordered to pay disbursements of $52,858 and costs of $72,145 from hearings in the Family Court and High Court.

In an email yesterday, the girl's mother said she hoped the case raised awareness of the limits of medical knowledge. Practitioners should test or challenge diagnoses that were inconsistent with a child's background.

''We can only hope that the outcome of this case (and cases such as that of Jayden Wray, an infant in the UK), will encourage the medical community to be able to consider other diagnoses, and to admit that they do not always have all the answers.''

Jayden Wray's parents were charged with shaking him to death, and later exonerated after it was found his injuries were caused by rickets. It was difficult to describe the ''horror'' of the past two years, and its impact on the family.

''The world will never quite feel safe again, although finally having our daughter back with us is starting to heal the wounds.

''Child abuse is a terrible thing, but being accused of harming your child when you are innocent is also terrible. And it could happen to any parent, at any time.

''It took determination and belief in each other as people and as parents, as well as amazing, enduring support from our family and friends and the incredible hard work of our lawyers ... for us to win this battle.''

The family spent hours researching rickets and finding medical experts to speak on their behalf about the condition.

''It is hard to imagine how such a battle could be won, if the accused parents were without this knowledge, or were without a family who were willing and able to put themselves in debt to assist with legal costs (until legal aid was granted),'' the mother said in an email yesterday.

The family had taken the baby to Dunedin Hospital on July 10, 2011, following a seizure. The baby was found to be vitamin D-deficient, had mild to moderate rickets, multiple fractures, a skull fracture and a subdural haematoma.

The child was taken from the parents a few days later under an interim custody order granted to the Ministry of Social Development.

After the care and protection order was imposed by Judge Stephen Coyle in November 2011, the parents were allowed daily supervised contact with their daughter, the court was told in the appeal last July.


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