Making the diagnosis of non-accidental head injury, particularly in the acute illness, can be difficult. The aim of this retrospective study was to evaluate the use of magnetic resonance imaging in the acute presentation of non-accidental head injury. Twelve cases admitted to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh with a diagnosis of non-accidental head injury, and who had magnetic resonance imaging in the acute illness, were identified. The average age was 5.7 mo (range 1 to 34 mo). The mechanism of the primary injury was whiplash-shaking injury syndrome with impact in four cases and without evidence of impact in seven; in one case there was a compression injury. The magnetic resonance imaging findings reflected the pathological consequences of rotational acceleration-deceleration injury and did not differ between those cases with evidence of impact and those without. Subdural haematomas were identified in all cases; the commonest location for subdural blood was the subtemporal region. It is surprising and important that the most frequent location of subdural blood was in the subtemporal area. This is an area difficult to assess by computerized tomography. Evidence of repeated injuries was found in two cases. These findings confirm the value of magnetic resonance imaging in the acute phase of non-accidental head injury.