Grandmother tells court how five of her 12 babies died

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The Independent Online

The grandmother of a woman accused of murdering three of her babies told a court yesterday that five of her own children died in early infancy.

Surajben Patel, 80, who was flown to Britain from her home in the Gujarat region of India to give evidence, said that she had lost five of her 12 babies, three of them without any signs of illness.

Her granddaughter, Trupti Patel, 35, a pharmacist, is accused of killing two sons and one daughter by crushing or smothering them in their first weeks of life between 1997 and 2001, at the family home in Maidenhead, Berkshire.

The jury at Reading Crown Court was told that child deaths ran in the family. Surajben Patel, speaking through an interpreter in Gujarati, said she had lost her first three children to sudden and unexplained deaths in rural India.

Her first, a girl - born one month premature in 1941, when Mrs Patel was 18 - died within an hour of birth. Mrs Patel also lost her next, a boy, at six days old. She woke to find him dead next to her.

Neither of the children had shown any signs of ill health but because there had been no doctor in the village and the nearest hospital was a day's train ride away in Bombay, no investigation was made. Mrs Patel said: "This is something that God takes care of. We leave it to God." The court was told that none of the other dead children - all girls - had lived for more than six weeks.

Kieran Coonan QC, for the defence, asked Surajben Patel whether her ninth child, who died at six days old, had been unwell. She replied: "Her health was good before she died." Asked by Mr Coonan if she knew why the child died, she said: "I do not know."

The court was told that two of the five children, the third and 12th-born, had shown signs of ill-health just before their deaths. The third died at 15 days - the same age as Trupti Patel's second son, Jamie. The grandmother said: "For two days before she died, she seemed to have some boils and red marks all over her body. She didn't have a fever or any other conditions. I do not know why she died."

The 12th baby, born in Bombay, had had a temperature and been vomiting the day before she died, but doctors were unable to explain the death.

Trupti Patel denies murdering her sons Amar, who died aged three and a half months in December 1997, and Jamie, who died 18 months later. She said her husband, Jayant, 35, had also given the police information about three infant deaths in his family.

The court has been told that the deaths of the boys were initially put down to sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) until her daughter, Mia, died in June 2001 at age of 21 days.

A post-mortem examination found that Mia's breathing had been interrupted for a considerable period. She also had four broken ribs. Prosecutors allege that there was no medical cause for any of the deaths.

The case continues.