Introduction: In child protection cases clinicians are often asked to describe and age bruises. This paper looks at both intra- and inter-observer variability in the description of childhood bruising.
Methods: Fifty-eight bruises on 44 children were described by three observers, the bruises were then photographed and the same observers described the bruises at a later date. The descriptions were compared and classified in terms of complete, partial, or no agreement, both between observers and between the in vivo and photographic descriptions.
Results: Complete agreement on colour description between two observers in vivo occurred in 27% of descriptions in vivo and 24% of photographs. Only 31% of descriptions completely agreed with the later description of a photograph of the same bruise.
Conclusions: This marked variability in colour description, severely questions the practice of estimating the age of bruises especially from clinical photographs as evidence in child protection proceedings.