False accusations of Munchausen by Proxy, The Truth Behind the Label: Part 3 – A Failing Justice System


Christina England

(Part: 1 | Part: 2 | Part: 3 | Part: 4 | Part: 5 | Part: 6)

A failing justice system

The justice system is fraught with difficulties for an accused person. The odds are always stacked up against them due to failures in legal aid [ as established by the case of Steel and Morris v UK that showed the unavailability of legal aid in defamation cases.

Lawyers are so expensive that they are now reserved for the rich. This is explained by the defence attorney Ryan in Sick Kids

Ryan is one of the leading defence attorneys for people accused of MSBP Often working for free, he has persuaded the courts to overturn two guilty verdicts and has won dismissals of allegations in four other cases. He said he consults with 30 to 40 women annually who are accused of the syndrome and has volunteered more than 4,000 hours of his time defending women. He estimates the cost of defending someone accused of MSBP can range from $25,000 to $1 million”

With these type of legal expenses, working class mothers of disabled or sick children have little or no chance in clearing their names, should they be falsely accused. The stress of fighting to prove their innocence in whatever way they can is often extremely difficult and time consuming on the mother/care giver. If the mother/care giver is single then she has to weigh up whether she can fit in work and child care around the vast amount of paperwork and research needed to win her case. The stress of litigation and character assassination can cause mental health problems in those with no previous history. It has also been confirmed by professionals that parents are unable to sue.

Mr Clifford Miller a Lawyer wrote this on the BMJ Rapid Responses in answer to an article


The House of Lords’ decision reported in your 30 April article ‘Parents wrongfully accused of child abuse cannot sue doctors‘ is to be welcomed at least in part. It confirms that paediatricians and likely others who make false, reckless or negligent allegations of abuse against a parent owe a duty of care to the child.

Consequently, the guardians of the child may bring an action on the child’s behalf any time up to its 18th birthday. Alternatively the child will have three years from the 18th birthday to bring a claim for personal injury. If other claims can be sustained then perhaps up to six years beyond the 18th birthday, such as where a prosperous family environment was destroyed and the child left in less advantageous circumstances in consequence.

Accordingly, paediatricians are at risk for periods of between 21 to 24 years, as will be their employers.”

Even with an admission of a wrong diagnosis, deleting this from the files containing the false diagnoses is extremely difficult. Climbing the mountain of justice is extremely hard for a mother without the support of a defence union [as doctors have]. The Information Commission sin the UK uggests that an individual can make a Section 10 request under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Section 10 Data Protection Act 1998.

10 Right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress

(1) Subject to subsection (2), an individual is entitled at any time by notice in writing to a data controller to require the data controller at the end of such period as is reasonable in the circumstances to cease, or not to begin, processing, or processing for a specified purpose or in a specified manner, any personal data in respect of which he is the data subject, on the ground that, for specified reasons

(a) the processing of those data or their processing for that purpose or in that manner is causing or is likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress to him or to another, and

(b) that damage or distress is or would be unwarranted

It is clear that the health and social services systems have not put in place a method of addressing the serious problems that may be faced by a mother who is misdiagnosed. Faced with this system and profound losses in their lives, mothers will often rely on anyone who offers them a chance, any chance through the system. Sometimes, “any chance” isn’t the right chance or the right method of addressing the problems. In distress, it is natural for anyone to lash out at professionals or anyone whom they perceive to be in their way. Doctors and Social workers often seem impervious to the implications of a wrong diagnosis. Coupled with this the system has no way of addressing these issues. By default due to the failures of both the health and social systems to address grievances properly, the targets become the workers within the system itself. While legitimate debate and legal challenge is acceptable, harassment is counterproductive and may have the net result of placing child protection at risk. This is counterproductive for all concerned.”

It is difficult to understand why a criminal can have a conviction which is spent however a mother or care giver who is accused falsely and proven to be innocent cannot get data removed.

Countess Mar the House of Lords certainly agrees with this.

Lords Hansard text for 17 Oct 2001 (211017-06)

“Even when accusations of child abuse against a parent or parents have subsequently been withdrawn, often after prolonged and costly legal action, the stigma of being branded a child abuser by the local authority remains with the parents. Once a social services referral is placed on their Samson database, the details remain for ever, no matter what the outcome of later inquiries. The referral becomes common knowledge in the local community. Those who work with children, either as carers or teachers, are refused employment and those who have been active in the community or in voluntary work find that they are no longer required, especially if children or young people are involved.”

In other words a wrong accusation of MSBP brings with it stigma and ridicule which is impossible to remove even when proven innocent.

In June 2004 following the conviction of Ian Huntley for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Sir Michael Bichard was asked to lead an Independent Inquiry into Child Protection measures by the Home Secretary Rt Hon David Blunkett MP. This was mainly on record keeping and Information sharing in the Humberside Police and Cambridge constabulary.

This was called the Bichard Inquiry.

This was due to the fact that Ian Huntley had been known to authorities for a number of years and yet this information had not emerged during the vetting procedure, allowing Mr Huntley to be employed by a school.

In this report certain guidelines were suggested to stop this from happening again.

These were

A new system for registering those working with children and vulnerable adults

61 The current arrangements could be improved within the existing vetting framework to address concerns about checking identity, checking an applicant’s addresses, dealing with incomplete and withdrawn applications and providing access to additional databases (for example, HM Customs and Excise). However, the resulting improved regime would still have overlaps, duplications and inconsistencies and could only offer a snapshot taken when a vetting search was undertaken.

62 I am, therefore, recommending a very different system. I am proposing the introduction of a register of those who wish to work with children or vulnerable adults – perhaps evidenced by a licence or card. The inclusion of an individual on this register would reassure employers that nothing was known by any of the relevant agencies about that individual that would disqualify them from working with children or vulnerable adults.

63 The register would be constantly updated, following the introduction next year of a new system (the PLX) that will indicate when police forces hold intelligence on an individual. The register could be easily accessed – subject to security protection – by any employer, large or small, including parents employing tutors or sports coaches. Such a system would relieve the police The Bichard Inquiry – Introduction and summary 9 of the responsibility of deciding what information should be released to employers and would simplify arrangements for employers. It could – and I think should – incorporate an appeal process for applicants who were refused registration. It would also avoid information about past convictions being released to prospective employers without reference first to the individual concerned.

On Saturday 13th September 2008 in the Daily Telegraph an article entitled “False child abuse claims to be kept on file.” This article (no link) stated that Local Authorities are setting up databases to hold records of accusations made about anyone from teachers and doctors to Scout leaders, priests and private tutors. The accusations will be kept on a persons personal file until they retire so that future employers can see them.

This is causing an outcry and being raised on several blogs and websites, one of which is the Liberty Scott blog. She says the following when she discussed the article.

“Instead local government investigates allegations and unless you can prove your innocence, they remain on a file, able to be searched by employers, for the rest of your life. It appears that the UK public policy response to a horrendous crime is to erode the rights of the innocent – because after all, the safest country is the one under constant surveillance.”

Once accused you are in a no win situation, once an accusation has been made it stays for life.

(Part: 1 | Part: 2 | Part: 3 | Part: 4 | Part: 5 | Part: 6)

About the author

Christina England, BA Hons