The unjustified death of a child is usually a tragic event that shocks a society to its core. For other parents, it is the start of a nightmare as well as a highly personal and painful loss.

The reality is that in the vast majority of murder and manslaughter cases, the culprit is well-known and close to the victim. When a child dies, investigators will focus their attention on the parents, a strategy that will only add to the sorrow of the bereaved parent.

Experts will be called in promptly to determine the cause of death, which in certain circumstances will be said to be injuries caused by extreme shaking, which is commonly described as being the equivalent of a car accident.

An allegation of shaking is often based on the presence of three things (the ‘triad’):

  • Swelling of the brain
  • Retinal bleeding, and
  • Blood in the dura (an area between the brain and skull)

The existence of these injuries as confirmation of intense shaking can be seen in medical literature dating back to the 1940s, mostly from the United States.

The conclusions of the investigation were generally disputed until 2001, when Dr. Jennian Geddes published a paper proposing alternate reasons for the medical findings. Other experts would return to this field of medicine in later years, and they, too, believe that other elements are at play.

Experts who have questioned the ‘triad”s customary interpretation have typically paid a high price.

Following a lengthy campaign to discredit her, Dr Waney Squier, a well-known expert in this field who has acted in numerous instances, was struck off by the General Medical Council (Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal).

However, the GMC finding was reversed by the High Court in November 2016 (Squier v General Medical Council [2016] EWHC 2739 (Admin)).The science in this area is still in a state of flux, and from a criminal law perspective that is a critical issue as cases must be proved to a standard so that the jury can be sure of the defendant’s guilt.