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Telegraph UK

I had to find out whether I was really the father

The Telegraph, U.K. by Celia Hall, Medical Editor, August 11, 2005

It was a whirlwind romance. Within four months Michael and his girlfriend were hopelessly in love and discussing a life together and the prospect of children, not immediately, but in the future.

They moved in together then bought a house. Life was very good, said Michael, who asked for his identity not to be disclosed. "I was infatuated."

But his career in banking took him away from home all the time. He was effectively commuting to France and, before long, he said, he had reason to believe his girlfriend had not been faithful. "But I was in love and I put the thoughts to one side.

"Then she became pregnant," Michael said. "It was sooner than we had planned but we had wanted children together and I was still in love."

Their son was born. The relationship was breaking up, however, and the suspicions about infidelity began to return. "I had to find out," he said. "By now I had moved out.

"Three years ago it was not as easy as it is now to get a test done. I went on the websites but many of the companies which looked as if they were English turned out to be American. I was not confident.

"I decided to ask my GP. He was rather surprised but said he would look into it. In the end he came up with much the same information I had found for myself."

Finally Michael chose a company and took a swab from his son's mouth without the mother's knowledge. This made matters even worse. "It was difficult and I was in two minds. If he was mine I wanted to support him. He would be a little part of me in the world. But if he was not, I did not know how I would feel."

The test proved that he was the biological father. Michael then had to fight for access through the courts and he supports his son, who is nearly four. Being able to prove his paternity made his case stronger, he said.

His case is typical of a growing group of men who feel the need to establish the paternity of children born to their wives and girlfriends.

Once, it was women who sought confirmation of the paternity of their children to obtain maintenance from absent husbands. Now, the Child Protection Agency says that men are seeking DNA proof in equal numbers.

In new research published today, Prof Mark Bellis, of Liverpool John Moores University, says that about four per cent of fathers unknowingly are raising children who are not biologically theirs.

He has based his estimate on good quality research papers that examined paternity in communities as well as genetic testing for medical disorders since paternity population statistics are not collected in Britain.

David Hartshorne, a biologist and the commercial director of Cellmark, the largest paternity testing organisation in Britain, said there was an industry estimate of about 10,000 tests a year nationally.

"In our own company we have seen this work rising by about 10 per cent year on year. It is an extremely serious area and it is a very interesting question as to what rights a child has to know his own identity."

With his pre-selected clientele about 30 per cent of the tests find that the man is not the biological father of the child.

"There is no doubt that demand is growing," Mr Hartshorne said. "Public awareness of the -testing is growing but people need support when they receive this information. These are difficult issues."

Avi Lasarow, the managing director of DNA Bioscience, said that an analysis of about 1,500 mothers and fathers who had used its service in the past six months had found that 20 per cent of men were not the child's biological father.

"People seek testing for a wide range of reasons," he said. "Siblings want to know about the paternity of their brothers and sisters and women as well as men want to find out.

"Sometimes if there have been two possible fathers, women will pick the most solvent one. But they still want to know who the father of their child really is."

From next April, a clause in the Human Tissue Act will make it an offence to take material such as hair to be used for DNA testing without full consent.