A child abuse probe was launched against a north-east baby’s parents after bruise-like marks appeared on his face – before it was discovered he had a simple dairy allergy.
Natalie Whyte and Marc Sutherland today told of their “hell” under the spotlight of suspicion after their then six-week-old son Callan fell ill.
Although the couple suspected the bruise-like marks were caused by a medical condition, a health visitor reported concerns and a probe was launched, which led to Marc, 33, being arrested, cautioned and held by police for four hours.
It was not until an allergy expert diagnosed Callan with a milk intolerance that police and social workers dropped the case.
NHS Grampian said today it is investigating the circumstances of the case after receiving a complaint from the couple.
Marc said: “We were put through two months of hell because they didn’t test for his allergies the day we went into the hospital.
“It’s a horrible experience that no-one should go through.
“Me and Natalie agree about the procedures in place in order to help fight child abuse, but when you’re straight away being accused and being treated guilty – that’s what we find ridiculous.”
Natalie, 28, said: “Since Callan was born he would be difficult to feed, he would become very fussy and would start screaming.
“We would go to the GP and health visitors and they kept saying it was colic – to just keep giving him relief medication for the trapped wind.”
One evening, Natalie returned home to hear Marc had a particularly difficult evening trying to give Callan a bath.
The couple, from Auchleven, near Insch, then noticed the left side of their son’s face had gone red and slightly swollen which only got worse the following morning.
Mysterious “red and purplish marks with little bumps” also appeared, but were gone by the evening.
Concerned, Natalie took Callan to the doctor the following day and explained the situation and was assured once again it was colic.
When the health visitor came round, Natalie told her about the bruise-like marks.
Natalie said: “She asked me if my seven-year-old Lucy might have hurt Callan but had been too scared to tell me. I said ‘absolutely not, there’s no way Lucy would ever hurt Callan’.
“She then started asking me if I felt safe around Marc and if I thought my kids were safe in my home.
“It wasn’t until about 5pm that evening, when she phoned to tell me to take Callan to the children’s A&E to have a paediatrician check on him.”
Natalie said she was “absolutely horrified” to find out her family was under investigation for child abuse when she arrived at the hospital.
Callan then underwent a CT scan, x-rays and a blood test to prove for any signs of physical abuse.
She said: “We went into the hospital because someone was concerned about my son’s health, but instead we were treated like criminals.
“They kept telling me it was in my best interest to tell them if Marc had done something to hurt the kids.
“I said to them, no matter how many ways or times you ask me that question, the answer isn’t going to change.”
Desperate for answers, Natalie looked for a second opinion.
She said: “I have a family member who works in a health practice and they showed other health visitors and professionals the pictures of Callan’s marks on his face.
“The other health visitors were really surprised and shocked with what was going on and said the first thing that came to mind was an allergy.
“They said ‘That child has an allergy, babies get them all the time, we deal with children like this everyday and the health visitor should be picking this up’.”
Tests eventually confirmed the markings on Callan had been caused by a dairy allergy.
Natalie said once Callan’s milk formula was changed “he was like a completely different baby”.
“It was such a relief to know what it was,” she added.
It was only after Marc spent four hours at Kittybrewster Police Station – during which time he was placed in the cells, arrested, cautioned and questioned – that police said there would be no further action.
Marc said: “When this all started, we never thought that it would go so far with me being detained.
“I thought, well it’s either going to be both of us or one of us. It’s like they were looking for something that wasn’t there.
“It’s not an experience I want to relive, being questioned, waiting in a cell and being treated like a criminal.
“I know the police need to do this and apologised to me afterwards for putting me in there, but being asked questions that aren’t nice – it felt like they were trying to get answers that I didn’t have.
“I think if they had just done the allergy test we could have been on our way and focus their resources on finding actual child abusers.”
Natalie and Marc wanted to stress that the social workers who worked on the case were “brilliant”.
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: “Ms Whyte and her family have raised their concerns directly with us.
“As this matter is currently under investigation it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.”
Detective Inspector David Howieson said: “When concerns about children are raised to police – no matter the nature – they must be taken seriously until the full circumstances are established.
“In this case a report was received from a partner agency and inquiries were subsequently carried out, with all those involved updated at each stage.
“North East Division Public Protection Unit takes the protection of children extremely seriously and works tirelessly to ensure our protection systems are as effective as possible.”