Abuse inquiry spreads

LONDON -- Thousands of parents whose children were taken into care are to see their cases reviewed.

The move follows the discrediting of pediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow.

His theory of Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy -- that some mothers harm their children to draw attention to themselves -- was widely followed for years by social workers and at family court hearings.

It is estimated that up to 5000 youngsters were judged to be at risk and taken from their families.

But many experts now believe the syndrome does not exist.

Solicitor-General Harriet Harman's announcement follows the ordering on Tuesday of an urgent review of 258 criminal cases where a parent was convicted of killing a child -- also due to doubts about 70-year-old Sir Roy's evidence.

Miss Harman told MPs: "We are not in a position to say in how many care proceedings the evidence of experts was decisive.

"We will make sure we recognise that not only injustices done in the criminal justice system, but any potential injustices in care proceedings, are identified and acted on."

But for some parents the agony will never be ended, even if their names are cleared. Many of the children have been settled with adoptive families for years, and it would be against their interests to return them to their natural parents.

Yesterday's move came 24 hours after three Appeal Court judges scathingly dismissed Sir Roy's "Meadow's law" on cot deaths -- that "one in a family is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder".

In his judgment in the case of Angela Cannings -- wrongfully convicted of murdering her two sons after Sir Roy gave evidence -- Lord Justice Judge said medical science about unexplained infant deaths was "still at the frontiers of knowledge".

The judges said that for a parent to be "brutally scarred" by losing a child, then wrongly convicted of killing it, was abhorrent.

Only 54 of the 258 parents covered by the criminal review are still in custody, and experts believe that up to 20 will be freed.

The total compensation payout to all those wrongfully convicted, in cases dating back 10 years, could top $200 million.

Children's Minister Margaret Hodge has already warned that it would be impossible to turn back the clock in many cases, some of which date back 20 years.

"If they were taken as babies, the only parent they know is the adopted one," she said.

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