Soon, every US state but one had introduced mandatory reporting legislation: now, when doctors found evidence of abuse, they were compelled by law to notify authorities. By , 60, cases had been reported. Four years later, that number had risen to more than a million. A specific cause for some of these injuries was suggested in by a British neurologist. Norman Guthkelch proposed that damage could be caused by the brain being thrown about inside the skull. The triad became the diagnostic tool for detecting violent abuse. Meanwhile, across the US and UK, alarm about hidden child abuse was rapidly accelerating.
Everyone knew that child-abusing monsters looked like perfectly ordinary-looking mums and dads — and perfectly ordinary-looking mums and dads were everywhere. Fran and Dan Keller of Austin, Texas, were falsely accused of forcing children at their daycare to drink blood-laced Kool-Aid and watch the chainsaw dismemberment and graveyard burial of a random passerby.
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Despite the hallucinogenic insanity of the charges, the Kellers spent 21 years in prison. The couple were released in and fully exonerated in June this year. The UK was not immune to such hysteria. By the late s, public scepticism was growing. The accusations had become too wild, journalists were investigating and a number of prosecutions failed.
The spotlight fell on shaken baby syndrome following the sensational trial of a British nanny, year-old Louise Woodward, who was accused and convicted of shaking eight-month-old Matthew Eappen to death at his home in Massachusetts. Symptom one: bleeding in the dura. This was caused by the tearing, during shaking, of the bridging veins that drain blood from the skull.
Symptom two: retinal bleeding. This was caused by tearing, during shaking, within the eye. Symptom three: brain swelling. This was caused by damage, during shaking, to nerve fibres in the brain. Therefore, the person who was present when it happened was the guilty one. That was Woodward.
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It was suggested that she had caused re-bleeding of a previous injury. A jury found her guilty of second-degree murder, and she was sentenced to 15 years to life. But then something strange happened. Woodward was free.
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In , one leading prosecution witness, neuroradiologist Dr Patrick Barnes, recanted. The triad, he had since come to believe, was too readily used as an indicator of abuse. T he day after Craig Stillwell was released on bail, a social worker came to call. The visitor wanted them to sign an emergency protection order EPO , granting the local authority shared responsibility for their daughter.
Now, fuck off. Effie was still unwell, but Craig and Carla struggled to get any information about her health. They rushed to the hospital and, Carla says, were forbidden to even look at her through a window.
A doctor, citing the powers granted by the EPO, ordered them home. On 15 September, a weak but recovering Effie was discharged and placed into foster care. Her parents were allowed to see her for 90 minutes three times a week at a contact centre. Meanwhile, preparations for the family court trial, which would decide whether they would be allowed to have Effie back, had begun.
Their solicitor told them about a superstar expert witness. Her name was Dr Waney Squier.
My hometown: Shaken, not broken in Christchurch, NZ
During the s, when Woodward was being tried, she was a triad believer. Back then, she believed what pretty much everyone did: that the triad is diagnostic of abuse. Harris was ultimately exonerated. It was some ground-breaking work by neuropathologist Dr Jennian Geddes that first made Squier doubt herself. They begin to accumulate, which is what causes the swelling.
But Geddes had access to a new technology, in the form of a stain that highlights this axonal swelling in slices of brain by colouring it gold. At least, not caused by trauma. Soon a powerful rebellion began to form. Curious experts, in other fields, began finding more and more reasons to doubt the old theory.
Doctors began questioning the idea that a baby could be killed by shaking and yet have no other signs of violent attack. When babies in a forward-facing car seat are involved in a front-end collision, they get fractures and dislocations in their neck and back. Others pointed to the troublesome fact that no witness had ever actually seen a baby being shaken and then suffer the triad.
Over the years, starting in the s, there was some softening of the idea that the triad always indicated abuse. And then, in , the sceptics were handed another powerful weapon in the form of a brand new paper by Geddes. With the arguments against shaken baby syndrome gathering force, the rebellious scientists found themselves increasingly in-demand as expert witnesses.
follow As they strode through courtrooms casting doubt on the science, prosecutions failed and convicted parents were released on appeal. The prosecutorial forces launched a counter-attack. Their first victory came in , during an appeal hearing against three shaken-baby convictions, including that of Lorraine Harris. But it was too late. The Crown Prosecution Service issued a celebratory press release.
Geddes saw the hearing as a calculated attack on her integrity. It was an attempt to shut my theory down, to prove my research was rubbish and that I was dishonest. In September , a plan to deal with them was spelled out by a Met Police officer in a Powerpoint presentation. That year, fully half a decade after it happened, attendees were still celebrating the humiliation of Geddes. The plan was to go after them. Previous court testimony would be combed for potential problems.
If problems were discovered, formal complaints would be made.
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Back in the UK, Squier had already been targeted. It was from a barrister with whom she had been working on a case. He was calling from court. Squier was baffled. An investigation by the General Medical Council could hardly be more serious. Soon, Scheimberg and Cohen would learn of actions against them.
A body called the National Policing Improvement Agency had formally complained that Squier had dishonestly misrepresented the science of shaken baby syndrome in trials involving six infants between and Most of the allegations involved the cherry-picking of evidence, straying into areas outside her expertise and knowingly making statements that were unsupported by the science.
The bulk of the GMC hearings took place over six months from October Thrash, thrash, thrash. She was struck off.