We didn't know if we'd see our children again

Northland, New Zealand - Devout Christians, the Tribbles have triple reason to celebrate Christmas: the birth of Christ, their youngest child's first birthday and the chance to get on with their lives.

Northland's David and Catherine Tribble packed their bags yesterday morning and headed to the High Court in Whangarei not knowing if they would see their eight children again.

Having packed their bags in preparation for the worst, the devout Christians were overjoyed when they were convicted and discharged of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their baby son Caleb.

The couples' relief was obvious when Justice Geoffrey Venning ruled out a prison sentence.

As the Tribbles wiped away tears, supporters in the packed public gallery clapped and hugged each other.

Afterwards, Catherine Tribble said the sentence was a huge relief.

"We left our eight children this morning not knowing if we were going to see them again," she said.

Caleb died on December 5, 2003, after he had been sick for more than a week with what the couple believed was a tummy bug. An autopsy revealed he was killed by blood poisoning brought on by an undiagnosed kidney condition.

During the trial, the Crown argued that the couple's belief in healing prayer meant they had a rose-tinted view of his condition before his death, but David and Catherine Tribble said they would have taken him to the doctor if they had known he was so sick.

Outside court, Mr Tribble said the impact of the sentence had not sunk in: "We have had two years of trial, basically, and I don't know what life is after two years of trial."

Earlier Justice Venning said the Tribbles were honest, reliable people and he considered their religious beliefs had been overstated and sensationalised.

He accepted the principle reason they did not not seek medical attention was they believed Caleb was getting better.

The couple had prayed for Caleb, but they did not rely solely on prayer, he said.

"I accept that, if you thought his life was in danger, you would have taken him into to the doctor.

"You are not averse to seeking medical help ... your faith, your beliefs did not preclude you from seeing a doctor."

They were not "religious fanatics or members of an extreme cult", he said, but simple people who looked to the Bible for guidance in their lives.

Where they fell down, and the reason they were convicted, was Caleb should have been taken to a doctor.

The Tribbles had to live with the knowledge that, if they had acted differently, their son might still be alive, he said.

Mr Tribble said the sentence reflected his belief that "we live in a pretty good community".

He had faith in the police and the justice system, although at times he felt religion had also been on trial.

"I think justice does work. I did have some doubts through the trial but I think justice does work at the end of the day.

"The trial has been a sharp lesson. We place ourselves under extreme scrutiny when situations like this occur ... Christianity is not your actions but your reactions, and we try with integrity to convey who and what we are," he said.

Later, when asked whether other parents could take lessons from their case, he said people should not make decisions based on fear.

"There might be some fearful people out there because of what we have been through. I don't think that's the correct motive to make a decision on anything ... you have to make your decisions out of integrity but you have to be very, very careful."

Catherine Tribble said the trial had made them aware that they had to look at situations in a more open-minded way.

"We were very confident in our ability as parents through experience and maybe that has been shaken to a considerable degree.

"You can either get better or you can get bitter," she said of the family's ordeal.