Baby deaths expert faces mothers he helped jail

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An internationally renowned child abuse expert who was knighted for his services to medicine gave "naive and grossly misleading" evidence in a case which led to the wrongful jailing of a young mother for murdering her two sons, a disciplinary hearing was told yesterday.

An internationally renowned child abuse expert who was knighted for his services to medicine gave "naive and grossly misleading" evidence in a case which led to the wrongful jailing of a young mother for murdering her two sons, a disciplinary hearing was told yesterday.

Professor Sir Roy Meadow, one of Britain's most eminent paediatricians, breached his duties as a medical witness and misused statistics in evidence he gave at the trial of the solicitor Sally Clark in 1999, the General Medical Council heard.

Sir Roy, a former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, is the most senior member of the medical establishment to appear before the GMC. He is charged with serious professional misconduct, which he denies.

He forged his reputation by being the first to describe a form of abuse in which parents induce illness in their children, which he called Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Sir Roy also gave evidence in the trials of Donna Anthony in 1998 and Angela Cannings in 2002. Both were convicted of killing their children but later cleared and both attended yesterday's hearing. Mrs Cannings, 42, who was released in 2003, waited outside the GMC building for the retired professor to arrive.

When he did, she shouted: "Any apologies for the families Professor Meadow, for the families you destroyed? Apologies, that's what we want."

Mrs Anthony, 31, who spent six and a half years in jail after being convicted of killing her daughter and son, said: "For me this case will definitely bring closure, that's all any of us want - an apology and closure."

Sir Roy gave evidence in the Sally Clark case that the chances of two cot deaths occurring in the same family were one in 73 million. But it is claimed that he disregarded data that showed the chances were more likely to be one in 200 in a family such as the Clarks, the hearing was told.

The eight-member GMC panel heard that Sir Roy told an initial hearing into the Sally Clark case at Chester magistrates' court that the chances of two infant deaths in a family being natural deaths were "long odds" of one in a million. In later evidence given to the jury, Sir Roy said the chance of two genuine cot deaths occurring in one family arose "once in every 100 years" and that the odds against Sally Clark's children, Christopher and Harry, both dying natural deaths could be compared with four different horses winning the Grand National in consecutive years at odds of 80-1.

He had erroneously implied that two sudden unexpected infant deaths in the same family were independent of one another when research evidence with which he should have been "fingertip familiar" showed common environmental, genetic and biological factors made a second death more likely after a first had occurred.

Robert Seabrook, QC for the GMC, said Sir Roy had reached the figure of one in 73 million by multiplying together the chances of one death occurring, estimated at one in 8,500. But this was statistically flawed and "an outrageous distortion,"he said.

"The research clearly demonstrates the naive and grossly misleading use of simple multiplication of odds to determine the chance of a second sudden infant death syndrome death in a family."

Concluding his opening speech, Mr Seabrook said: "When doctors offer themselves as forensic medical experts ... they must be scrupulously fair.

"They are not hired guns, they are not advancing their own pet theories."

Mrs Clark's father, Frank Lockyer, said outside the hearing: "No one is in any doubt that the evidence on which my daughter was convicted was flawed. This is a question of the GMC assessing responsibility."

In a statement yesterday, Professor Alan Craft, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "Whatever the outcome, I hope that this hearing does not overshadow all the work Professor Meadow has completed over his long and distinguished career. His work has undoubtedly saved the lives of many children."

The hearing is expected to last 20 days.

Five-year battle to clear her name

Sally Clark, a Cheshire solicitor, was jailed in 1999 for smothering her two sons, 12-week-old Christopher and eight-week-old Harry.

Mrs Clark, who was arrested in February 1998, denied murdering the children. She said she found Christopher a dusty grey colour in his Moses basket as she returned from pottering around the kitchen in 1996. Harry died in January 1998 after Mrs Clark found him with his head slumped forward.

Professor Sir Roy Meadow appeared as an expert witness at the trial, telling the jury the chance of two children in an affluent family suffering cot death was "one in 73 million".

He said of the children: "Each death has the characteristic of unnatural causes which is enhanced by the fact that two deaths have occurred at about the same age in one home. The evidence increases the strength with which I feel that the two deaths are not natural."

The Royal Statistical Society disagreed and wrote to the Lord Chancellor saying there was "no statistical basis" for the figure. But the Court of Appeal in 2000 said the figure would not have unduly swayed the jury and upheld Mrs Clark's conviction. She was not freed until a second appeal in 2003.

The quashed convictions

* FEBRUARY 1998: Sally Clark is arrested over the deaths of her sons Christopher and Harry.

* OCTOBER 1999: Her trial begins at Chester Crown Court. The expert witness Professor Sir Roy Meadow tells the jury there is a "one in 73 million" chance of two children dying from cot deaths in an affluent family.

* NOVEMBER: Mrs Clark is found guilty of the murders and given two life sentences.

* OCTOBER 2000: Mrs Clark's first appeal fails.

* MARCH 2002: Sir Roy gives evidence at the trial of Angela Cannings, accused of murdering two of her children. She is convicted but freed on appeal the next year.

* JANUARY 2003: Mrs Clark has her conviction quashed on appeal. The judges criticise Sir Roy's evidence.

* MAY: Sir Roy gives evidence at the trial of Trupti Patel, saying he believes her three children were asphyxiated. She is found not guilty.

* APRIL 2005: Donna Anthony is released on appeal after serving six years for murdering two of her children. Sir Roy gave evidence at her 1998 trial.

* JUNE: Sir Roy appears before the General Medical Council charged with serious professional misconduct in relation to evidence at Mrs Clark's trial.