Mother convicted of killing her babies to be cleared

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The Independent Online

A mother who has spent more than six years in prison after being given a life sentence for murdering her two babies is expected to have her conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal today.

A mother who has spent more than six years in prison after being given a life sentence for murdering her two babies is expected to have her conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal today.

Lawyers for the Crown Prosecution Service have indicated they will not oppose an appeal by Donna Anthony, 31, imprisoned in 1998 for murdering her 11-month-old daughter, Jordan, and four-month-old son Michael.

A jury unanimously convicted Anthony, who has always maintained her innocence, after hearing evidence from Professor Roy Meadow, who suggested that her babies, both of whom died in hospital and bore no signs of injury, had been smothered.

She will join a growing list of mothers convicted on cases that relied at least in part on the evidence of Professor Meadow, who devised a controversial "Meadow's Law" - that "one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, unless proven otherwise".

Her appeal comes after the Attorney General ordered a review of 297 cases involving infant deaths in the wake of Angela Cannings' successful appeal in December 2003. She had been accused of murdering her two sons, seven-week-old Jason in 1991, and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999.

The Deputy Chief Justice, Lord Justice Judge, who heard her case, said at the time that in cases such as hers, where the outcome relied on divided medical opinion, it was "unsafe to proceed".

Anthony's case was among 28 of the 297 now being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. They said her case was sent back to the Appeal Court in February following "new expert medical evidence".

During Anthony's trial at Bristol Crown Court, the jury heard how her daughter, Jordan, died in Yeovil District Hospital in 1996. Doctors believing she had been the victim of cot death. But when her son, Michael, died in a similar way in March the following year, a police investigation was launched. In both instances, Anthony tried to revive the babies but they eventually died in hospital.

Anthony, who had her first appeal against the conviction dismissed in 2000, faced the possibility of being bailed at a court appearance in March this year. But complications surrounding arrangements for her safe accommodation meant she was sent back to Bronzefield Jail in west London, where she has spent the past six-and-a-half years. Her solicitor, George Hawks, said at the time: "She is still a convicted child killer and there is a certain vigilante element out there. She has had a difficult enough time in prison carrying that label. It is not going to be easy when she comes out, even when she comes out completely cleared or exonerated."

Like the mothers involved in the high profile cases before her, Anthony always maintained that her children died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids), or cot death.

The case of Sally Clark, 39, first bought the validity of Professor Meadow's expert opinion on cot deaths into question. Mrs Clark, a solicitor, was jailed for life in 1999 for murdering her sons Harry, aged eight weeks, and Christopher, 11 weeks. Professor Meadows said the chance of both having Sids was one in 73 million. Mrs Clark, was freed in 2003 after the Appeal Court heard there was no statistical basis for the figure.

The same year, Trupti Patel was put on trial at Reading Crown Court accused of killing her three babies between 1997 and 2001. The professor used his law while giving expert evidence but Mrs Patel was acquitted after the court heard the cause may have been in the genes; her grandmother lost five babies in similar circumstances.

The Court of Appeal is also expected today to hear the case of Chah' Oh-Niyol Kai-Whitewind, who is challenging her conviction of murdering her 12-week old son.