In the Media

Young parents cleared in shaken baby case after rickets diagnosis

PUBLISHED December 10, 2011

A young couple walked free from the Old Bailey yesterday when they were cleared of killing their baby son after the court heard that undiagnosed rickets could have caused his injuries.

The acquittal of Rohan Wray, 22, and Chana al-Alas, 19, has raised questions over the Department of Health?s treatment of vitamin D deficiency, which causes rickets, as the condition reaches ?epidemic? proportions in the UK.

Mr Wray and Ms al-Alas came under suspicion when their son Jayden died suddenly two years ago. They were charged with murder and causing or allowing the four-month-old boy?s death.

They were acquitted when the prosecution withdrew the charges and the judge directed the jury to return not guilty verdicts. Their ordeal finally over, the couple, from Islington, North London, hugged and kissed before walking free from the dock.

Their six-week trial heard that Jayden had died of damage and swelling to his brain which the prosecution argued could only have been caused by being shaken or having his head hit against something. But some 60 medical, professional and expert witnesses were unable to agree on the cause of his injuries.

The defence argued that Jayden?s condition was a result of his mother?s undiagnosed vitamin D deficiency and had been missed by a string of health professionals, including doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital. It was discovered only after his death, by Dr Irene Scheimberg, the pathologist who performed the post mortem.

That Jayden Wray had obvious signs of rickets aged only four months indicated that his mother had a vitamin D deficiency, Dr Scheimberg said. This would have left the baby with weak bones, including a weak skull, and could have caused a series of fractures. The condition was also blamed for complications which led to his death.

Dr Scheimberg was the pathologist in the case of another baby who died of heart problems to which vitamin D deficiency had contributed. On her recommendation Andrew Walker, the North London coroner presiding over that baby?s inquest on Tuesday, issued a notice to the Department of Health requiring a response within 56 days.

The notice, issued under Rule 43 of the Coroner?s Rules, recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women are given a daily dose of 400 international units of vitamin D, in line with a 1991 government directive. The Department of Health must detail what action it is taking, or explain why it has decided not to act.

?In the 21st century, in a civilised country, this is outrageous,? said Dr Scheimberg, of the Royal London Hospital. ?This is only the tip of the iceberg.

?Here at the Royal London there are trials on all sorts of things related to vitamin D deficiency. It?s a really serious issue and I?m very happy that Mr Walker has followed my recommendations.?

A consultant orthopaedic surgeon last year found that more than 20 per cent of children tested for bone problems in Southampton showed signs of rickets. Those results were ?very reminiscent of 17th-century England?, said Professor Nicholas Clarke.

Mr Wray and Ms al-Alas denied causing Jayden?s injuries. The couple, who were aged 19 and 16 when Jayden was born, had taken him to see doctors after becoming worried about his health.

Medical staff and health visitors had not detected anything wrong with him but when in July 2009 the baby stopped taking his bottle, his parents took him to hospital. He died after having seizures.

Jenny Wiltshire, Ms al-Alas?s solicitor, said outside court: ?Chana al-Alas and Rohan Wray can now be allowed to grieve the tragic loss of their son whom they loved and cherished.

?They have been through two-and-a-half years of hell. They were prevented from comforting their dying son or attending his christening, all because clinicians at both hospitals failed to diagnose congenital rickets.?

Sally O?Neill QC, defending Mr Wray, told jurors that the couple?s youth had led doctors and the police to ?pre-judge? them. ?Jayden was indeed a much-loved and cared-for baby. Their care for him was transparently that of loving parents, even though they were young,? she told the court.

The case comes amid legal warnings to prosecutors that shaken baby cases should be supported by other evidence of abuse.

Ms Wiltshire added: ?The real criminality in this case is that, if the money spent on this case had been directed to fulfilling the 1991 government directive that breastfeeding mothers be given vitamin D supplements, this death would not have occurred and rickets, which is now back up to epidemic proportions in this country, would have been wiped out.?

The DH said it had yet to receive Mr Walker?s recommendations, but once it had would ?respond in due course?.