Leading Article: No cause for celebration

AT LONG last the Louise Woodward story is over. We will never know the truth of what happened to Matthew Eappen. But most people will assume that the final result - manslaughter - is the most likely explanation. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, the most overwhelming emotion on her release is surely relief that this seemingly interminable saga has, finally, come to an end. From day one, there seemed something suspect about the prosecution's tactics - not least its insistence, in the face of seemingly contradictory evidence, that Ms Woodward was a murderess rather than a young woman who may have caused a tragic accident. No one, however, could have predicted just how great a hold on the public's attention the trial and subsequent appeal would exert. But then, we are a nation with a penchant for stories involving Brits apparently wrongfully convicted in foreign courts. When the defendant is a sweetly smiling young nanny, looking unable to hurt a fly, the public reaction was, with hindsight, bound to be great.

But whatever we might think about Louise Woodward's guilt or innocence, and however relieved many people will be that she is on her way home, we should never forget that a tiny child died. Ms Woodward remains, in the words of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, a "convicted felon". Manslaughter may be a lesser charge than murder, but it is still a conviction for causing the unlawful death of another. The whooping cheers of joy in her home town when her conviction was originally quashed turned many stomachs. Relief is one thing, exultation is quite another. Louise Woodward will have to begin the rest of life today. If she - and her parents - have any sense, they will damp down the more over-the-top celebrations that mark her return.

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