Natalie Whyte and Marc Sutherland were adamant that something was wrong with their son.
But their concern for his health ended up making them the target of an abuse investigation.
“Since Callan was born he would be difficult to feed, he would become very fussy and would start screaming.”
The worried mom discussed the newborn’s symptoms with doctors and their National Health Service (NHS) health visitors, and was assured it was just colic. The baby was even prescribed medication for colic, but it didn’t appear to help.
One evening, Callan’s face became swollen and red. The next day, he developed red and purple markings and small bumps on his face. Though the marks disappeared by the evening, Whyte was concerned enough to mention the strange marks to the health visitor.
That’s when the questions about their family started. Whyte told the BBC:
“She started asking me if Lucy would have hurt Callan and been too scared to tell me. Lucy was in the house at the time and heard her say this. She was distraught that anyone would think she would hurt her baby brother.
She skated around asking me if it was Marc and began asking me if I felt safe around him and if I thought my kids were safe in my home.”
That evening, the health visitor called Whyte and told her to take Callan to the hospital so a pediatrician could check on him. But when they arrived, the shocked mom learned that they weren’t there to find answers to her son’s health problems. Rather, they were being investigated for abusing their son. Whyte told the Express:
“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.”
The couple was subjected to a battery of questions in more than a dozen interviews and told they couldn’t take their son out of the hospital or they would be arrested.
Callan was subjected to a battery of tests, including blood tests, eye exams, CT scans, and X-rays, all looking for evidence of abuse. Whyte told the Scottish Sun that it was devastating to watch:
“I had to stand back and watch three nurses pin every little bone on his body down as he shrieked. All to prove we hadn’t broken his bones.”
Though the parents were eventually allowed to go home, they had to leave their newborn overnight in the hospital. And his father was subjected to even more police questioning.
Whyte told the Sun that she and her husband were “placed under tremendous scrutiny” and weren’t allowed to be around their children unsupervised. She added that, “Lucy was investigated and her school was contacted for comment on what kind of parents we were.”
Desperate to clear their names and find out what was causing her son’s illness, Whyte contacted a family member who worked for a health practice. The medical staff immediately identified what was ailing the infant — he was having an allergic reaction to his milk.
Whyte told the Express that an allergy was one of the first things the other health professionals thought of when they saw Callan’s picture:
“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 confirmed that Callan’s bruise-like markings had been caused by a dairy allergy. After changing to a different formula, Whyte says her son’s symptoms disappeared.
While they understand that authorities need to take child abuse investigations seriously, Callan’s parents don’t understand how things went so far in this case — especially when it could have been quickly cleared up by an allergy test.
Sutherland told the Express that being questioned by the police began to feel like they “were looking for something that wasn’t there.” He added that it was difficult to be stuck in a cell and treated like a criminal when he was innocent:
“I know the police need to do this and apologized 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.”
A spokeswoman for NHS said that the case is currently under investigation. And Detective Inspector David Howieson defended the police actions, telling the BBC that concerns about children “must be taken seriously until the full circumstances are established.”
While she sympathizes with the police position, Callan’s mother still believes the investigation could have been handled differently. As she told the BBC, “I really don’t want this to happen to other families. We totally realize we have to have these child protection laws in place. But I believe there needs to be further testing before they get to that.”