From The Independent, 1 November 2014. Story by Paul Gallagher.
A mother cleared of poisoning her daughter after taking desperate measures to treat a chronic condition has said that the case should be used as a landmark for other parents finding care for their children outside the NHS.
Mary Kidson said questions need to be asked about the “monopoly” the health service has on child medical care. Her circumstances echo the way Ashya King’s parents were treated when they left the UK last month to seek proton therapy for their young son, and will add to the debate whether the NHS should improve access to alternative therapies.
Speaking to the Independent on her first full day of freedom following her acquittal on Wednesday at Worcester Crown Court, Ms Kidson said she felt anger and relief, adding that she could not wait to finally be reunited with her 16-year-old daughter.
“I was tense, very tense in those moments before the verdict,” she said, having faced a jail term of up to 10 years if found guilty. “I didn’t know how it would end until just before we went into court.”
Her barrister, the former Conservative MP Ken Hind, gave her the good news moments before she returned to the dock to hear the jury’s verdicts and told Ms Kidson the prosecution were not going to appeal. She bowed her head and wept.
“I let some of the emotions out before I went back in. I just sobbed outside in the waiting area. When the verdicts were read it out, it was amazing, absolutely amazing. In some ways it was quite surreal. Not guilty was always the verdict that would be the just verdict, I just never knew what would actually happen.”
It had been a three-week trial but an 18-month nightmare for the 55-year-old, who stood accused on three counts of poisoning her daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, through unnecessary medication. She had been accused by prosecutors of “doctor shopping” by touring hospitals and clinics in Britain and abroad until she received a diagnosis for conditions which NHS tests showed were not present in her daughter.
In 2012 she travelled with her daughter, then 14, to the Brussels clinic of Dr Thierry Hertoghe, a Belgian physician and expert in hormone therapy, or so-called “anti-ageing medicine”, desperate for help. The girl was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome that had left her virtually bedridden.
Once under Dr Hertoghe’s supervision, the prosecution also said Ms Kidson administered toxic levels of three hormones prescribed over a five-month period in which the Belgian physician said all but one of the teenager’s ailments improved. However, when Ms Kidson’s ex-husband Michael Guilding discovered what was happening he called the police.
“On 5 March 2013 they just turned up at my house with social services, arrested me and took my daughter away,” said Ms Kidson. “I’d never had any previous involvement with any of them at all.”
Ms Kidson, a specialist in special needs education who ran an online tutoring company that helps children with autism, dyspraxia and auditory processing disorder from her farmhouse in Ledbury, Herefordshire, has been separated from her daughter ever since. In January this year she was charged under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act with poisoning her daughter with thyroid extract, oestrogen and hydrocortisone.
Ms Kidson was then only allowed two hours supervised contact a fortnight with her daughter, until her daughter suffered a breakdown after the pair had been separated and was detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. Ms Kidson has still not been given a date when the pair can reunite.
She said: “My daughter’s on other medication at the moment but she does appear to be physically fit and well which is great. Her health has improved dramatically and she’s on the verge of discharge, but I still haven’t been told when I can see her.
“I’m very angry with the way the Crown Prosecution Service, social services and the police all dealt with this. I don’t know who they’ve been listening to. It appears they formed an opinion of me without even meeting me. There was no contact at all until they knocked on my door.
“This whole case raises the question of a parent’s right to go and find treatment outside the NHS for their child. It seems that the NHS has a monopoly on children’s medical treatment. Adults have total freedom to go where we want in the world [for healthcare] but when you’re a child it appears that only the NHS can treat you. This raises the whole question of the ethics around that.”
An attempt by her daughter to contact her in April led to a breach in Ms Kidson’s bail conditions, and she was remanded in custody at Eastwood Park, a closed category women’s prison in Falfield, Gloucestershire. Ms Kidson immediately used her teaching skills for the benefit of fellow inmates.
“It wasn’t the hugely negative experience I was expecting,” she said. “I tried to make the best of my time there. I got involved with the education department and helping people on a one-to-one basis with their maths and reading.”
Dr Hertoghe said last night Ms Kidson’s trial “should never have taken place” and called for widespread NHS reform to allow parents greater choice over their child’s medical care.
“What a mess everyone has made,” he said from Brussels. “Two lives have been broken. I don’t think the NHS doctors who gave evidence [against me] are untypical of other doctors in the NHS in their way of thinking. The whole system needs reform. We have to give people the right to choose their doctor without fear of prosecution.
“What Mary and her daughter went through is exactly the same as what Ashya King and his family endured. Doctors are not gods; they can make faults. People shouldn’t have to go private and pay a lot of money for specialised treatment.”
Dr Neil Fraser, the paediatrician in charge of child safeguarding in Herefordshire and also a specialist in hormonal disorders, said in a report for the trial that he strongly disagreed with the Belgian physician’s methods. Dr Hertoghe, the author of an internationally accepted guide on hormone therapy, told the court his treatments were based on redressing imbalances which he claimed are disregarded as medically insignificant in Britain.
Already head of the 3,000 member International Hormone Association, Dr Hertoghe told the Independent he is now planning to set up an organisation akin to Amnesty International for anyone seeking hormone therapy.
“I want to set up a ‘Hormone Rights International’ so people have a right to that treatment and doctors have a right to prescribe it, because cases like Mary’s are failures of the system. The NHS is decades behind its time and its doctors are too traditional.”
Sue Hind, practice manager at Ms Kidson’s defence team Newham Chambers, called it a “David and Goliath” case. She said: “It was a privilege to be part of Mary Kidson’s tiny defence team in the face of Hereford police and social services. Mary showed great dignity and stoicism throughout the trial but was passionate about the world understanding she wanted only the best for her daughter. It was a bit like David fighting Goliath so thank goodness sense prevailed.”
Ms Kidson paid tribute to those who pulled her through her ordeal. “My sister, all my cousins, all of my friends – I can’t thank them enough,” she said. “They have all been absolutely amazing.”
Another familiar face pleased to see Ms Kidson following her acquittal is that of Daisy, her cavalier King Charles spaniel, who had been staying with friends of the family while she was in custody.
“I’m just looking forward to relaxing for the rest of the day, talking with friends and family and catching up on six months’ of post which has piled up; and, of course, taking Daisy for a walk. I haven’t done that for quite some time.”