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20 May 2014

UK: Girl awarded compensation after mother drank heavily in pregnancy

A 16-year-old girl has been awarded £500,000 in criminal injuries compensation for severe brain damage she 'sustained in the womb as a result of her mother drinking alcohol,' the Sunday Times reports.

The girl, called Molly and from the northwest of England, was considered a victim of a crime because her mother persisted in drinking heavily despite warnings from health workers and police about the risks to her fetus, Sarah-Kate Templeton reports. Molly was four when she was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

News of the payout, made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) last September, comes ahead of a test case at the Court of Appeal later this year. Lawyers will argue that a six-year-old girl with FAS should receive full compensation because her claim was submitted to the CICA before November 2012, when rules on what constituted being a victim of crime were changed to exclude children damaged by alcohol in the womb. The council for which the lawyers act says the child is a victim of crime because her mother criminally “poisoned” her in the womb after being warned of the dangers of her alcohol consumption.

If successful, the case could have far-reaching implications, Sarah-Kate Templeton writes. The lawyers involved in the case are representing 80 children in Britain who suffered physical and mental damage as a result of their mothers’ heavy drinking. Part of the legal team’s argument will be that the payouts to Molly and previously a small number of other children have in effect set a precedent.

Neil Sugarman, a managing partner at GLP solicitors in Greater Manchester who is acting in the case, said: “It is very unfair that some children should have an award, which they very much merit and need, and others won’t get it. I think from a lay person’s perspective or to a victim of this syndrome, it just seems that they [the CICA] accepted that drinking alcohol to excess, knowing it will damage your baby, is a crime for the purposes of the scheme and all of a sudden it isn’t.”

The CICA was obliged to pay compensation in Molly’s case because it had already accepted she had been the victim of a crime and made an interim award of £44,000 before its policy was changed. The CICA letter to Molly’s adoptive states: “As a result of the applicant’s mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy, the applicant has been diagnosed with FAS. Our policy for new cases is to reject such claims, as we do not consider this to be a crime of violence.”

Some women’s rights campaigners argue that policing pregnant women for drinking is “reprehensible”, the Sunday Times reports. Ellie Lee, director of the parenting cultural studies centre at Kent University, said: “Society has a responsibility to care for and assist children born with disabilities. To imagine the best way to do this is by inventing new crimes allegedly committed by pregnant women is reprehensible. This constitutes the literal policing of pregnant women.”

A spokesman for the CICA said: “We cannot discuss individual cases, particularly as an appeal relating to this issue is under way.”

Girl harmed by drink in womb wins payout. By Sarah-Kate Templeton. Sunday Times, 18 May 2014

Also read:

Analysis: Drinking in pregnancy – what do we know? Reproductive Review, 5 February 2014