What is Munchausen syndrome by proxy? 
John Sweeney finds out more.

 BBC R4- Today programme 
January 13 2004  

BBC REPORTER:  Taking a child away from it parents after allegations of abuse is an extreme step.  It causes agony for the parents and also in many cases for the child.  When this happens one ought to confident that every effort has been taken to ensure the allegations are well founded, particularly when they involve Munchausen syndrome by proxy.  This controversial theory was first identified in 1977 by Professor Sir Roy Meadow, and has been called into questions in recent high profile appeals, such as the Sally Clark and Angela Cannings cases.  John Sweeney reports on a disturbing case. 

JOHN SWEENEY:  They called it Operation Whatley Ė covert video surveillance carried out by six former Special Forces officers and ex policemen not against the IRA or Al Qaeda, but against a mother.  She was, according to the paperwork suffering from Munchausenís disease.  They were spying on to check whether she was complying with a court order restricting the amount of time she could spend with her child.  But Mumtaz, we changed her name for legal reasons, denies that she hurt he baby.

MUMTAZ:  I never did anything to my harm my child.

JOHN SWEENEY:  Her baby now 2 suffered five seizures in the first four months. She went blue in the face, her muscles went floppy and she appeared to stop breathing.  A report by Dr Paul Davis, a leading expert on Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a theory about child abuse first discovered by controversial expert witness Professor Sir Roy Meadow, said otherwise.  Dr Davis cited Munchausen syndrome by proxy 31 times in his reports on Mumtaz.  He concluded that:

 UNKNOWN SPEAKER READING FROM DR DAVISí REPORT:  This is not a classical case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy

JOHN SWEENEY:  Baby Karma had suffered

UNKNOWN SPEAKER READING FROM DR DAVISí REPORT:  Imposed upper airway obstruction.

JOHN SWEENEY:  And he stated.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER READING FROM DR DAVISí REPORT:  It seems the perpetrator must have been the mother.

 JOHN SWEENEY:  As result of this report and others, Birmingham social services got a family court order placing Karma into foster care.  Family Court proceedings are held in secret and everyone involved cannot be identified.  In a statement to the Today programme, Birmingham social services said:

 BIRMINGHAM SOCIAL SERVICES: The mother has not been diagnosed as having Munchausen syndrome by proxy 

JOHN SWEENEY:  However the surveillance team who spied on Mumtaz appeared to have told the opposite.  The surveillance reports states:


JOHN SWEENEY:  Mumtaz says she has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.  Her first complaint is that Dr Davis made his report critical to the finding that she tried to smother her baby four times without having met her.

MUMTAZ:  He attacked us.  He made this report saying that I smothered my child.  But how dare he make a report without meeting us and knowing what kind of people we are, how we are towards our child.  He just read the notes and went ahead and started saying that I tried to do this and I tried to smothered her.  He is just so wrong.

JOHN SWEENEY:  In paragraph one, point one of his report Dr Davis says:

UNKNOWN SPEAKER READING FROM DR DAVISí REPORT:  I have not met any of the parties or examined Karma and did not consider it necessary to do so.

 JOHN SWEENEY:  We asked Birmingham social services, ďWas it best practice for a doctor to make a diagnosis without meeting a patient?Ē  They said the question was irrelevant to the case.  The second complaint made by Mumtaz is that Dr Davis did not investigate her family history.

 MUMTAZ:  On my side of the family, thereís 24 sudden infant deaths, thatís over four generations.  My sisterís son had breathing difficulties when he was younger, floppiness, colour change.  My husbandís family have nine sudden infant deaths.  His brother had similar symptoms when he was one month old and his daughter as well had the similar symptoms.  There could have been a genetic thing within Karma.

 JOHN SWEENEY:  Birmingham social services say:

 BIRMINGHAM SOCIAL SERVICES:  The parents have made claims in the media, about medical evidence, which has never been presented to Court.  They have been advised that if they have any such evidence it such be brought before the High Court.

 JOHN SWEENEY:  The third complaint made by Mumtaz is that when Dr Davis made his probable finding that she must have tried to smother her baby four times, he downplayed the significance of a potentially lethal bug, Rotavirus.  She says that her baby suffered a fifth attacked and she could not possibly have caused it, because she wasnít there when the baby feel ill.  Dr Davis agreed:

UNKNOWN SPEAKER READING FROM DR DAVISí REPORT:  On this admission, baby Karma was clearly unwell.  Slightly mottled with a high fever.  A common virus was identified in stools.  So there is every indication that this episode was related to a genuine episode of illness. 

JOHN SWEENEY:  That bug was Rotavirus.  However baby Karma had also tested positive for Rotavirus for the third attack, which Dr Davis suggested was caused by attempted smothering by the mother.  Thereís no evidence in Karmaís medical notes that she was tested for Rotavirus for the other attacks.  Dr David Drucker is a microbiologist at the University of Manchester. 

 DR DAVID DRUCKER:  If as I understand, the virus was accepted as the cause of the problem in the fifth attack.  Then I think there have to be very good reasons for not seriously considering it as an explanation for the third attack. 

JOHN SWEENEY:  Do you think itís possible that this mother has been a victim of a miscarriage of justice? 

DR DAVID DRUCKER:  Yes, because we know in several instances, some of the investigations that might have been carried out, werenít carried out. 

JOHN SWEENEY:  What do you think of Dr Davisí conclusion, it seems that the perpetrator must have been the mother?

DR DAVID DRUCKER:  This would worry me, if heís starting out from the point of view, there has to be perpetrator and there canít be a natural cause. 

JOHN SWEENEY:  Dr Davis declined to comment.  Birmingham social services planned to have Karma adopted permanently.  In the meantime, in the scrupulously clean home of Mumtaz and her husband, there is an empty bedroom.  She told me how often she thought about her child.

MUMTAZ:  All the time, every second of the day.  I just want her home.

BBC REPORTER:  And that report was from John Sweeney.


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