Sad family snap meant to win the world's sympathy

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The Independent Online
The battle for hearts and minds between the two sides in the Louise Woodward case is intensifying. The release yesterday of photographs of the dying baby Matthew Eappen by his parents is, says Jason Bennetto, the most controversial move yet.

The image of an eight-month-old baby with a large bandage covering his head and tubes emerging from his mouth and nose is harrowing.

Extra pathos is provided by a teddy bear with Matthew written on his bib, a photograph of the baby with his brother Brendan, aged two, and a favourite toy animal nuzzling at his shoulder in a hospital intensive care unit.

The photograph, along with other pictures of a happy, smiling Eappen family, were released yesterday by the mother and father, Deborah and Sunil, in an apparent attempt to regain the PR initiative and nurture public sympathy.

The pictures, issued three days before Judge Hiller Zobel is expected to announce whether the life sentence on the British au pair will be overturned, reduced to manslaughter or assault, or a new trial is ordered, were condemned by supporters of Louise Woodward yesterday.

Steve Collins, a friend of the Woodward family, said: "The hospital picture is very emotive and harrowing. It seems in poor taste. I would question their motives. To most parents this would be the last picture in the world that you would want made public - it's of an eight-month-old boy in their last hours. It is very sad."

The photograph of Matthew linked to a life-support machine in February at the Children's Hospital in Boston, comes a day after Deborah Eappen said that Woodward should spend at least 15 years in prison for killing her son. She also called the au pair a liar and a "monster".

She added: "I, of all the people, would love to believe it wasn't Louise. I put her in the house. But it was her."

Dr Eappen also said she was "sick" that, while more than pounds 200,000 has been raised by Woodward supporters, only about pounds 6,000 has been donated to a fund set up in Matthew's name.

On this side of the Atlantic, Louise Woodward's family and supporters in Elton, Cheshire, the village where she grew up, are holding a rally and fireworks display later today. They have already distributed more than 100,000 yellow ribbons.

Meanwhile, a move to re- introduce capital punishment failed to get through in Massachusetts, the state where the au pair was convicted, after a member of the House of Representatives changed his mind because of the Woodward case.