Meadow's baby murder cases: most convictions ruled safe

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The Independent Online

Only a handful of cases in which women have been convicted of killing their babies on the evidence of the discredited paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow are to be referred to the Court of Appeal.

Only a handful of cases in which women have been convicted of killing their babies on the evidence of the discredited paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow are to be referred to the Court of Appeal.

After a review of more than 100 cot-death cases by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, the vast majority of "Munchausen's by proxy" murder convictions have been ruled safe.

The findings will come as a shock to campaigners, who expected scores of women to be freed from jail and many others who have completed their sentences to be cleared.

Lord Goldsmith is expected to announce the conclusions of the review to Parliament soon, possibly as early as today. Only half a dozen cases are likely to be sent to appeal.

The review was ordered in the wake of three high-profile cases in which women were accused but subsequently cleared of murdering their babies.

Angela Cannings and Sally Clark were convicted chiefly on Sir Roy's theory that one cot death in a family is a tragedy, two are grounds for suspicion and three, unless proved otherwise, are murder.

Trupti Patel was tried but acquitted of murdering her three babies after her trial heard that "Meadow's law", as it became known, was seriously flawed.

When Ms Cannings, convicted of killing three of her babies, was freed on appeal in January, Lord Goldsmith and Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General, ordered a review of 258 cot-death cases, with priority given to 53 women still in prison. More than half of the cases involving Sir Roy's evidence have now been examined. The Independent has learnt that only a handful are to be referred to the Court of Appeal. The small number of women involved are expected to be cleared and released.

Children's charities feared that the Cannings judgment would become a "murderer's charter", making it difficult to prosecute mothers suspected of killing their children.

Sir Roy was the first expert to discover Munchausen's by proxy in the 1980s. The condition causes parents to harm or kill their babies to gain attention and sympathy.

He has given evidence in hundreds of cases, helping to convict women who claimed their babies had died as a result of cot death or other accidents.

But the Clark and Cannings cases destroyed his reputation and he faces being struck off by the General Medical Council. He has always protested that his theories are correct.

The campaign to free mothers convicted on the basis of Sir Roy's evidence was dealt a blow last week when Maxine Robinson, one of the high-profile cases championed by protesters, admitted that she had killed three of her children.

Robinson, 35, was considered a priority case by Lord Goldsmith's review and had attracted considerable support in her claims that her case was a miscarriage of justice.

She had been convicted in 1995 of smothering her five-month-old son Anthony and 19-month-old daughter Christine.

After years of denial, she admitted in prison this year that she had committed the murders, and appeared in court to confess that she had also smothered her first daughter, Victoria, when she was nine months old.

Solicitors who are representing women whose cases are not being referred to the Court of Appeal may have the opportunity to pursue their cases through the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

One official said the cases that had been reviewed had been given priority and that those with similarities to the Cannings case had been targeted first.

The controversy over cot-death cases has led to chaos and confusion about how paediatricians and the courts should proceed against women suspected of harming their children.

Complaints against paediatricians have soared from 20 in 1995 to more than 100 last year, and doctors have received hate mail and death threats in the wake of the recent acquittals.

Children's charities said that the review highlighted the need for the death of a child to be fully investigated by multi-agency teams. Phillip Noyes, the NSPCC's director of policy said: "[We are] calling for a system where every child death is systematically reviewed without stigmatising those involved."