Mother fights 'compelling' murder evidence

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The Independent Online

A woman who is appealing against her conviction for murdering her two baby sons had been found guilty on the basis of "compelling'' evidence, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday. Angela Cannings had been convicted by a unanimous jury, who rejected her claims that the children were victims of cot death, the lawyer who prosecuted her said.

Mrs Cannings, 40, was convicted last year. Her defence team claimed yesterday she was found guilty on the "manifestly wrong'' evidence of the now-discredited expert Professor Sir Roy Meadow. The discrediting of his figures on cot death has already led to the release of Sally Clark and Trupti Patel, two other women who had been convicted of murdering their babies.

Mrs Cannings, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, had three children who died when they were just weeks old. Her first child, Gemma, died in 1989 when she was 13 weeks old. A second child, Jason, died in 1991 at seven weeks and the third, Matthew, died in 1999 when he was 18 weeks old. Mrs Cannings was originally charged with the murder of all three babies. Although the charge relating to Gemma was dropped, the jury were told to regard it as "background'' to the case.

Mrs Cannings' defence team claimed on Thursday that without Professor Meadow's evidence the case against her would have collapsed. But three Appeal Court judges yesterday heard that there was a wealth of other evidence against the shop assistant.

Paul Dunkels QC said the jury had heard lengthy evidence that raised questions about how Mrs Cannings acted when her babies died and the circumstances in which they all became apparent victims of cot death. In all three cases, the babies died when Mrs Cannings was alone in the house and when they had all seemed healthy just minutes or hours earlier. Witnesses had also heard how Mrs Cannings had acted in a "detached'' way when the babies died.

When she discovered Matthew lifeless in his bed, she did not phone an ambulance and went into another room to call her husband at work, saying: "It's happened again''.

The court also heard how Jason had suffered an apparent "near miss'' cot death a week before he died, when a health visitor arrived at the home to find Mrs Cannings saying the boy had stopped breathing. She had not called an ambulance and had left the baby upstairs when he was not breathing to answer the door.

Mr Dunkels said: "It is the Crown's suggestion that for her to behave in this curious and detached way was not the instinctive way one would have expected a mother to behave.''

After the death of Gemma, Mrs Cannings had been supplied with an alarm to detect whether a baby had stopped moving and possibly stopped breathing. She was also trained in resuscitation techniques. But when Jason suffered his "near miss'' cot death, she claimed she had not heard the alarm because she was in the garden.

When Matthew suffered a similar near miss and a week later died, she claimed the sound of the dishwasher and television in the kitchen had prevented her from hearing the alarm. The appealcontinues.