Mother freed after Court of Appeal quashes convictions for killing sons

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Angela Cannings was reunited with her daughter yesterday after the Court of Appeal quashed her convictions for murdering her two baby sons. Mrs Cannings walked free from the Royal Court of Justice with her husband, Terry, who has stood by her throughout her four-year ordeal.

Mrs Cannings, 40, said: "These last four years have been a living hell. Finally today, justice has been done and my innocence has been proven. I would like to go home now and be mummy to our very precious daughter." The girl, aged seven, has been looked after Mr Cannings, her father, for the past four years. She cannot be named for legal reasons.

While the three appeal judges have yet to deliver the reasons for declaring Mrs Cannings' convictions unsafe, their ruling after just four minutes' deliberation has major implications for several women convicted of killing their children. It also raises questions about whether any future prosecutions for "cot death killing" can succeed.

Mrs Cannings, from Wiltshire, was found guilty last April of smothering seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999. It was Matthew's death that had prompted the police investigation. Her first child, Gemma, had also died, at 17 weeks, in 1989. A murder charge relating to her was later dropped.

The prosecution case was based on the theory of the now-discredited expert Professor Sir Roy Meadow that one cot death in family is tragedy, two is suspicious and three must mean murder. The five-day appeal heard that Sir Roy's theory had since been described as "wholly misleading" and a "travesty" of medical evidence.

Six similar murder cases involving Sir Roy are being reviewed in the wake of the case involving Sally Clark, the Cheshire solicitor who successfully appealed in January this year against convictions for the murder of her two sons, also apparently victims of cot death.

The judges made clear that they believed there were too many grey areas surrounding cot death for experts ever to be able to exclude mystery or unknown causes. Research also showed that the Cannings children were at high risk of cot death because their parents smoked. Jason and Matthew had previously suffered "near miss" events in which they had stopped breathing.

Delivering the court's verdict, Mr Justice Judge told Mrs Cannings: "We have reached a clear conclusion and we do not need to reflect further. These convictions are unsafe and accordingly they are quashed. You will be discharged."