UK neuropathologist rejects theory of shaken baby syndrome

Sandra Higgins (34) accused of injuring child in Cavan in 2012

 

A UK neuropathologist has told the trial of a child-minder charged with assaulting a baby that shaken baby syndrome has no scientific validation.

Registered child-minder Sandra Higgins (34) is alleged to have caused the injuries to the 10-month-old baby she was minding at her home. The trial has reached its final stages and closing speeches will be made before the jury on Tuesday.

Ms Higgins of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town, Co Cavan has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby on March 28th, 2012.

Defence witness Dr Waney Squier told Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, she supported the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome up to 15 years ago.

“Only 15 years ago I too was making the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. I too was a believer in the belief that so many people in the area of child abuse believe in. I then began to question this,” she said.

She said she questioned it when a number of elements that supported the diagnosis were overturned by research. She said she began studying the scientific literature on the subject in great detail.

“I looked at many many cases of shaken baby syndrome,” she said. “I could no longer agree that this was a syndrome that had any scientific validation. I came to the view that I could not be sure this is a real syndrome.”

She rejected a suggestion from Mr Gillane that this represented a fixed view on her part. She said she has changed her mind in relation to the issue.

“We all have to be careful. We have to keep our minds open. I’ve changed my mind already,” she said.

She told Remy Farrell SC, defending, there was evidence of a pre-existing sub-dural haemorrhage in the child. She said this pre-existing condition would manifest in the baby’s head size, or the baby being irritable, not wanting to feed, losing weight or vomiting.

She said there were documented cases of babies who had inflicted injuries experiencing a “lucid interval” or a period of time after a head injury when a baby may be perfectly normal. She said in this case there was evidence of older damage.

“I think it is very dangerous to say because the child collapses at a certain time we know when the injury occurred,” she said.

Earlier, a Garda handwriting expert told the trial he could not say when entries in a childminding diary were altered.

Det Garda John Leonard said he examined a blue notebook which was used as a diary and handover book between Ms Higgins and the child’s mother.

The document and handwriting specialist said the purpose of his examination was to see if there were any alterations or amendments to particular entries.

He said that the time of 12.50pm written into an entry on the date of the alleged assault was an alteration. The time indicated the end of the baby’s morning sleep.

Det Leonard said it was not possible to say when the original note was amended.

The trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court continues before Judge Patricia Ryan and a jury of eight men and four women. There is a court order prohibiting publication of the child’s name.