Child abuse expert 'used statistics out of context' at cot death trial

An eminent paediatrician misused statistics from the world's biggest study of cot deaths to help convict a mother of a double murder, a disciplinary panel has been told.

Professor Sir Roy Meadow, a child abuse expert, gave evidence in the trial of Sally Clark that the chances of two babies dying of cot death within an affluent family was one in 73 million.

But he quoted the figure out of context and in a way that it was never intended to be used, the hearing before the General Medical Council was told.

Sally Clark was jailed for life for the murder of her two baby sons in 1999, but freed on appeal in 2003. Sir Roy is charged with serious professional misconduct, which he denies.

The GMC heard that the one in 73 million statistic was not calculated by Sir Roy, but came from a report into sudden infant deaths known as the Cesdi Sudi study.

Peter Fleming of the University of Bristol, the chief author of the study and an expert on cot death, told the hearing that although his study contained the one in 73 million figure, it was "somewhat unreliable" because of the "extreme rarity" of double cot deaths. "It was never intended as a real statistical estimate," he told the hearing. The true rate could range between 1 in 214 and 1 in 8,500, he said.

Sir Roy was invited to write the preface for the publication in August 1999 and had been given a draft of the study, the hearing was told.

Professor Fleming was shocked when Sally Clark's defence team informed him that the one in 73 million statistic was being used as part of the case against her and faxed a letter to the Clark defence team the same morning highlighting his concerns.

"I was trying to make the context of that sentence clearer," he said. "My intention was that the barrister would have the opportunity to raise these points if that particular sentence was raised in court. The content of previous paragraphs made it clear we were making assumptions for it we knew were not correct."

The statistics were meant to show how genetic as well as environmental factors, such as parents who smoke, came into play. "We were increasingly becoming aware it seemed that many ... were assuming where a second death was occurring there was a very high likelihood of neglect and abuse."

Professor Fleming said his study was "trying to balance" that assumption. It should have been "quite clear" that the one in 73 million figure was purely illustrative, he said.

Sir Roy was knightedon his retirement from St James' University Hospital, Leeds, in 1998. He faces being struck off the medical register if found guilty.

His evidence helped to convict Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony of murdering their children. He was also involved in the failed prosecution of Trupti Patel in 2003. After Mrs Cannings' conviction was quashed, 28 cases were referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk