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Rate of murder in cot deaths is far lower than alleged

The number of cot deaths caused by murder has been overestimated, a medical study says today.

Researchers concluded that as few as 3 per cent of cot death victims may have been deliberately killed. Previous estimates of a much higher rate have been used to convict several women of murdering their children, including the solicitor Sally Clark.

Experts such as Professor Sir Roy Meadow, whose evidence helped to convict Mrs Clark of murdering her two sons, claim that 20 per cent of cot deaths are murders. Another expert used in several court cases, Professor Michael Green, says 40 per cent of cot death babies have been killed. Professor Meadow is being investigated by the General Medical Council after Mrs Clark was freed on appeal, and another mother, Trupti Patel was acquitted of murdering three of her babies.

The new study was described by a legal expert as "the final nail in the professional coffin of Roy Meadow and his like".

The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, suggests that every year many grieving parents are being wrongly suspected of murder. Many are put through the trauma of being investigated by police, or having their other children monitored by social services.

Dr Anthony Stanton, a consultant paediatrician, reviewed the cases of 72 babies who had died suddenly in Yorkshire between 1982 and 1996. He looked intowhether the families had more children and if there were problems with their care.

Three families had lost two children, and Dr Stanton found that in two of those cases there were grounds for suspecting abuse.

In three other families where a baby had died, the other children were put on a child protection register, but none died. But of those families, the children of one were adopted because of abuse, and the children of another were made wards of the court. The third mother went on to care for her baby with no problems.

In all the other families there were no concerns about abuse, and many parents had other children who thrived.

Dr Stanton estimates that between 3 and 10 per cent of cot deaths are murders. He said: "... Other estimates may have been too high ... Families require compassion after their loss and support for subsequent siblings. Comprehensive child protection investigation should be reserved for the few."