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Dad vows to fight Starship slur and still no access

A stay-at-home dad accused of assaulting his baby daughter has been acquitted, again raising concerns about the way staff at Starship hospital's child protection unit investigate suspected abuse.

Dad vows to fight Starship slur and still no access
Fairfax NZ News
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2012

A stay-at-home dad accused of assaulting his baby daughter has been acquitted, again raising concerns about the way staff at Starship hospital's child protection unit investigate suspected abuse.

The Friday before last, two years after being accused of shaking or throwing his four-month-old daughter so hard she suffered brain injuries, David* heard the words he'd prayed for: not guilty.

He left the Auckland District Court and joined family members at a nearby bar. Some time later, most of the jury walked in.
David, 38, and not his real name said
I thought, `oh no, is this supposed to happen?. Several jurors approached me, expressing anger at the way I had been treated after taking my daughter to Starship hospital in March, 2010.

They [the jurors] were wonderful people, they were saying how sorry they felt for us
It is the latest case to raise concern about practices at Starship's Te Puaruruhau child protection unit. A Star-Times investigation in 2010 revealed concerns that the unit was acting like a police station, treating parents as guilty until proven innocent and mis-diagnosing accidental head injuries as assault.

David's battle is not over  he now has to convince Child, Youth and Family to let him have access to his two kids, including the girl, who has fully recovered. He has the support of his partner, the mother of the children.

David doesn't fit the stereotype of someone who would hit his kids. The son of a retired detective, he was described in court by his lawyer, Ron Mansfield, as mild-mannered; an excellent father.

On March 25, 2010, he was looking after his daughter when she went limp in his arms and seemed to die. Her breathing shallow, he took her to a GP, and an ambulance took her to Starship.
lawyer, Ron Mansfield at the court said
The horror didn't end when he thought it might. Yet another horror was awaiting him at Starship."

Doctors found brain injuries, one recent and one older, which they believed could have been caused only by an "extremely violent event" such as being shaken or thrown, and could not have happened accidentally. The girl was put under the care of the Te Puaruruhau team, and David given a full-time "minder"
Mansfield called evidence that the girl had been injured in a boating accident two months earlier. And on the day she was admitted, David had tripped and fallen while carrying her in a car seat.

Terry Donald, head of the child protection unit at Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital, testified that those accidents could explain the brain injuries.

Donald is the same expert who testified in the 2010 trial of Famaile Lino, who was acquitted of exactly the same charges as David  causing grievous bodily harm with reckless disregard.

The judge in the Lino case, David McNaughton, criticised Starship doctors for failing to consider all the evidence and having closed minds on whether the child's injuries were accidental.
David's father, the retired detective said
The police officer who investigated his son failed to look at other potential causes of the injuries and the investigation was "woefully inadequate".

The Crown was never going to throw the charges out, because the prosecutor worked closely with Te Puaruruhau staff.
lawyer, Ron Mansfield said
Doctors at Starship had an important role in identifying, reporting and investigating abuse.

However as a community we must demand an objective response and not an emotive one. Parents who are likely to be reeling with their own emotions as a result of any injury to their child need to be treated reasonably, with respect and listened to.

Suspicious injuries should be investigated impartially and fully by medical staff and police.

This is a concerning case where that clearly did not happen, and the parents of the child were put through hell for an unnecessary and extended period.
Mansfield said there needed to be a full review of the way Starship staff and police handled such cases.

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Patrick Kelly, Te Puaruruhau's clinical director, believes his staff got it right and rejects the need for a review.
Patrick Kelly, Te Puaruruhau's clinical director said
We remain of the view that the diagnosis of non-accidental head injury was the correct diagnosis

The case was independently peer reviewed by Ken Feldman of the paediatrics department at the University of Washington, who gave evidence for the prosecution.
Only 56 per cent of cases where non-accidental head injuries in children were diagnosed led to criminal trials, and of those only 66 per cent ended in a conviction, illustrating the high standard of proof required in such cases.

Given these statistics, the [not guilty] outcome in this case is not unexpected and does not require a review of clinical practice at Starship.
Kelly said his staff were "acutely aware" that assessing possible non-accidental injuries was extremely stressful for families. "But it is our professional responsibility to put the interests of our patient [the child] first. If the possibility of non-accidental injury is not assessed very thoroughly, there is a high risk of further non-accidental injury or even death."

David remains angry at the "bloody awful" ordeal he went through. He is particularly concerned that his daughter didn't receive the standard of care and treatment she needed because medical staff were so focused on looking for further evidence of abuse.

He is vowing to fight to have changes made to practices at Te Puaruruhau. "We're going to make sure there are a few changes  whatever it takes."

* Name changed because of a suppression order.

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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