In The Courts:Royal Navy officer cleared of shaking crying baby to death

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The Independent Online
A Royal Navy officer was yesterday cleared of killing his baby daughter by shaking her to stop her crying. Louise Jury reports.

A jury of eight men and four women yesterday cleared Lieutenant Paul Chalmers of the manslaughter of his five-month-old daughter Sarah after more than five hours of deliberations.

Lieutenant Chalmers, 29, is now set to resume duty at Portland Naval Base in Dorset, but admitted his life had been completely changed by the 14-month ordeal since the baby died.

"The circumstances of the legal action have changed my life, but emotionally I'm still coming to terms with it. I don't feel I have been able to grieve. I don't know what the reason is, I just have not been able to show emotion," he said.

He told the Bristol court he could not recall the few seconds in which the alleged incident took place. After the case finished he said: "I still cannot believe it now."

The Crown had alleged that Lieutenant Chalmers, of Ilchester, Somerset, had shaken his baby to stop her crying after returning home after a hard day at work. Sarah suffered a brain haemorrhage on 8 November, 1996, and died in Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, the following day after an emergency operation was unsuccessful.

Ian Pringle, for the prosecution, said Lieutenant Chalmers, who also has a two-year-old son James, lost his temper while his wife, Maureen, was visiting neighbours.

Prosecution witness Dr Hugh White, a pathologist, said the probably cause of Sarah's injuries was "non-accidental", but conceded this was a "rather controversial area in medicine at the moment".

The British au pair Louise Woodward was accused in an American court of having shaken Matthew Eappen, a baby in her care, causing injuries which led to his death. She was convicted of second-degree murder, later reduced by the judge to manslaughter.

Under cross-examination, Dr White said that caring parents might be "unaware of the dangers of shaking a baby". But he said the risk was now being raised by agencies including the NSPCC.

Neil Sweeney, for the defence, said the injury was a "tragic accident" and that Lieutenant Chalmers had not intended any harm.

Recorder Mark Dyer accepted a majority verdict and praised the jury for its close attention to the case. "Parts of the evidence were almost unbearably poignant," he said.

As the verdict was read out, Lieutenant Chalmers and members of his family broke down in tears.