Hair test 'nearly cost mother baby'

Mother of child
Image caption The mother's battle to keep her child came down to a strand of her own hair

A hair test on a mother who nearly lost her child over alcohol allegations has been criticised by the High Court - potentially calling into question some tests done in similar cases.

The mother, from London, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said she turned to drink after being abused as a teenager.

When she became pregnant, her local council began proceedings to have the child taken into care.

She claimed to have given up alcohol by then.

The mother told BBC London: "I had to stop. I just didn't like my life anymore. I have been dry nearly two years."

But social services did not believe her and took her to court to gain custody of the child.

As part of the case a sample of her hair was tested for alcohol.

It was sent to a company called TrichoTech, part of the biggest alcohol hair testing company in Europe.

The test came back positive for alcohol use - but the mother insisted the results were wrong.

She said: "I thought, no, it must be wrong.

"They have tested someone else's hair.

"I was in pieces. I changed my life around and it was horrible not being believed."

When the second test by a different company was interpreted as negative, a High Court judge demanded answers as to the contradictory findings.

High Court criticism

A judgement listing criticisms of TrichoTech's methods was published later.

The High Court said:

  • Two different types of hair strand test should be used in this type of case - TrichoTech just used one.
  • Hair tests are not designed to establish abstinence or social drinking, only excessive use.
  • Three month's growth - about 3cm - should be tested, or it is hard to establish a pattern. TrichoTech did not do this.

The mother was allowed to keep her child.

She said: "We are having a good life at the moment."

BBC London has now learned that two separate appeals are taking place as a result of this judgement.

The published judgement concluded with a quote from one solicitor, acting for the child's guardian, who called the reliance on such tests "potentially catastrophic".

TrichoTech told the court it had now changed this part of its testing regime.

Asked whether it would now review any previous tests, Graham Sievers, TrichoTech's director, said: "The tests we showed before were certainly scientifically sound.

"We don't believe this judgement is seeking us to do so.

"The judgement is about the weight placed on one test which should not be relied upon in isolation.

"That's the crucial message - don't use it for [testing] abstinence."

New appeals launched

He added: "Our tests are very much of a technologically advanced edge of what's available today."

The mother's counsel, Lorna Cservenka, of Hanne and Co. Solicitors, said: "It's been widely known in legal circles this challenge was coming up."

Asked if there was a possibility children may have been taken from parents partly as a result of these tests, she said: "I can't discount that as a possibility."

The mother added: "We are real human beings, not just pieces of hair. I was nearly losing my child."