ABHORRENT; Unless we are sure of guilt the possibility always remains that a mother, brutally scarred by the death of her baby, may find herself in jail for life when she should not be there at all - APPEAL COURT YESTERDAY.
JAILING parents for the mystery deaths of their babies without positive guilt was branded "abhorrent" by a judge yesterday.
In a landmark ruling, Lord Justice Judge called for a halt to prosecution of parents where there was a reasonable possibility their children died from cot death syndrome.
He said: "Unless we are sure of guilt the dreadful possibility always remains that a mother, already brutally scarred by the unexplained death or deaths of her babies, may find herself in prison for life for killing them when she should not be there at all. In any civilised community that is abhorrent."
His judgment was another damning indictment of disgraced paediatrician Professor Roy Meadow whose evidence and research contributed to the jailing of three innocent mums for murder.
Some 258 cases involving murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a child under two by its parent will now be reviewed. Fifty four parents currently in jail could be freed. Another 15 continuing cases will be reviewed.
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, QC, said in a Parliamentary written answer: "These cases will be considered as a matter of urgency to establish whether they bear the hallmarks of a conviction which today's judgment indicates may be unsafe."
There would be "serious and far-reaching implications".
Lord Judge was setting out the Appeal Court's reason for freeing Angela Cannings, 40, who was wrongly convicted of murdering her two sons aged seven weeks and 18 weeks.
Last year the conviction of solicitor Sally Clarke, 39, of Wilmslow, Cheshire, for murdering her two sons aged 11 weeks and eight weeks, was overturned.
Professor Meadow gave prosecution evidence in both cases. In June last year Trupti Patel, 35, of Maidenhead, Berks, was cleared of murdering her sons aged three months, three weeks and two weeks.
Professor Meadow - who claimed the odds of two children in the same family dying from cot death were 73 million to one when latest research suggests they could be just 64 to one - did not give evidence at her trial.
BUT he was accused by the defence of getting his statistics in by the "back door". He faces charges of serious professional misconduct.
Lord Judge said if Mrs Cannings's defence had been able to cross-examine the professor about his evidence in the Clarke case his standing as a witness would have been reduced.
His flawed evidence undermined his high reputation and authority as a witness.
The judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Pitchers, said: "It demonstrates that even the most distinguished expert can be wrong and provides a salutary warning against the possible dangers of an over-dogmatic expert approach."
The judge said the current "fashion" for believing that more than one cot death in a family equals murder must stop.
There was no compelling evidence Mrs Cannings deliberately harmed her children.
Had she committed multiple murder it would have indicated an "extraordinary state of mind" which contradicted testimony by family, friends and professionals that she loved and cared for her children. There was also evidence of a genetic problem which could explain the deaths.
The judge demanded that investigations into multiple cot deaths should now start from an assumption of innocence and expert evidence should be approached with "healthy scepticism".
Where there was disagreement between experts, and natural causes could not be ruled out, "the prosecution of a parent for murder should not be started or continued unless there is additional cogent evidence".
The judge said: "Justice may not be done in a small number of cases where a mother has deliberately killed her baby. That is an undesirable result which avoids a worse one."
ALL suspect cases over the last 10 years potentially involving Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are to be identified within the next 10 weeks.
They will then be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and possibly the Court of Appeal.
Mrs Cannings, who has a daughter who cannot be named, said yesterday: "I'm just glad it's over with and we can be reunited as a family."
The mum, from Salisbury, Wilts, who was supported by husband Terry, urged other parents jailed for killing their children not to lose hope. Her solicitor William Bache described the Appeal Court judgment as a "monument to justice and common sense".
He said: "Where the only substantial evidence is scientific and there is conflict in that evidence, it's impossible to be sure how the children died."
The CCRC said: "We're aware of the potential for a number of cases involving expert witnesses to come to the Commission. But we expect the figure to be significantly lower than 258."
Yesterday's judgment offers little comfort to those whose children have been taken from their parents on the basis of Professor Meadow's theory of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
The theory suggests mothers harm their children to draw attention to themselves.
Up to 5,000 children may have been taken into care over the past 15 years. But Children's Minister Margaret Hodge has warned it would not always be in their interests to reunite them with their biological parents.
CASE OF WILL AND MICHELLE
THE agony of watching your baby struggle for life after suffering a stroke and several heart attacks is unimaginable.
But it was the start of a nightmare for Will and Michelle Carter (not their real names).
The 16-month-old girl recovered but the Carters were told a drug to stop bedwetting had been found in her urine. They believe she accidentally swallowed one of the tablets being taken by an older child.
Expert witness Professor Meadow suggested Mrs Carter had Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. It led to their four children, now seven, nine, 14 and 17, being taken into care. Two were adopted and two fostered. The Carters have fought in vain to get their children back. Mr Carter said: "The system has destroyed our lives."
CASE OF DILHAR AND MUMTAZ
MUMTAZ Ali and her husband Dilhar (not their real names) believed in justice.
When the couple's baby daughter was taken from them aged just three months in October 2001, they were convinced she would soon be home. She is still in foster care.
The child suffered four attacks of breathing difficulties. Each time her parents took her to hospital but no cause could be found.
But on the last occasion they were told social services were to investigate. The little girl never came home.
An associate of Professor Meadow told a court in 2002 he believed Mumtaz, from Birmingham, had tried to smother her child. But she said: "He never met me or examined our daughter. We will keep fighting."
Have YOU lost your child as a result of evidence given by Sir Roy Meadow or another expert? Call the Daily Mirror newsdesk on 0207 293 3831 (we'll call you straight back). Or email us via email@example.com
ANSWER: Lord Goldsmith; CRITICISED: Professor Meadow
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jan 20, 2004|
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