Thursday, 21 October 2010

SBS: rib fractures, Burridge Appeal, England

A BABY boy whose tragic death led to his father being jailed for murder may instead have suffered from abnormally weak bones, a top scientist has told the Court of Appeal.
Rees Burridge was only eight weeks old when he died in September 2006 after suffering a catalogue of injuries, allegedly as a result of his dad, Michael, violently shaking him.
In March 2008, the now 30-year-old Burridge, of Tavistock, was found guilty of murder by a jury at Plymouth Crown Court and sentenced to life behind bars.
But he is now appealing and yesterday judges heard the evidence of the histopathologist whose opinions form the backbone of Burridge's challenge to the guilty verdict. Professor Archie Malcolm, an expert in the microscopic examination of tissues, told the judges that examination of Rees suggested he may have suffered from weakened bones.
At the trial, the prosecution evidence said the newest of the several rib fractures would have required "considerable force", beyond that used in CPR techniques, to inflict.
Prosecutors said that Burridge must have been responsible for that later injury and, by inference, was much more likely to have inflicted earlier fractures to Rees' ribs.But Professor Malcolm believes there may be another explanation for the fractures, which would not rule out the possibility of Rees having suffered a fracture to his fifth rib during attempts to resuscitate him.
"If the fifth rib was normal, I think the risk of it fracturing in CPR would be extremely unlikely," he told appeal judges, Lord Justice Leveson, Mr Justice Irwin and Mr Justice Holroyde.
"But because the rib is abnormal, and I believe is less strong, I feel you have to entertain the possibility that CPR could have fractured through the abnormal rib.
"My opinion is that the bone is not normal, it is weaker than normal. It could be a non-accidental injury, or it could be fairly zealous CPR."
When pressed on the matter by Burridge's counsel, Henry Blaxland QC, the professor said it was "reasonable" to consider that CPR as the cause of the fracture.
Earlier this week, Mr Blaxland described Professor Malcolm's evidence as "absolutely critical" in the case and urged the judges to rule that it renders the conviction "unsafe".
There was no evidence that Burridge caused the earlier rib fractures, leaving only the well-known "triad" of shaken baby syndrome injuries as evidence against him.
Although those injuries – eye damage, brain dysfunction syndrome and blood on the brain – pointed towards non-accidental head injury, they did not confirm it, he said.
But yesterday another expert in the professor's field, Professor Tony Freemont, said he found it very unlikely that CPR had caused the "key" fracture to a bone that, he said, was essentially normal.
Professor Freemont, who gave evidence at the trial, agreed that Professor Malcolm is an "extremely respected" professional with a valid opinion, but said differences of opinion do still occur.
"I do not think the CPR of the type we have heard described would fracture a bone that was practically normal," he told the appeal judges.
Lawyers for the Crown, led by William Boyce QC, are contesting Burridge's attempt to clear his name in the appeal, which is expected to continue until the end of the week.

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