Mother in baby-killings appeal allowed bail

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The Independent Online

A mother who has spent more than six years in jail for the murder of her two babies will be released within days, pending an appeal against her conviction.

A mother who has spent more than six years in jail for the murder of her two babies will be released within days, pending an appeal against her conviction.

Donna Anthony, who is serving a life sentence for killing her daughter Jordan, aged 11 months, and son Michael, four months, maintains her innocence. Yesterday she received the strongest hint yet that her appeal, to be heard next month, will be upheld when the prosecution announced it would not oppose her case.

Anthony, who claims her children were the victims of cot death, was convicted in 1998 in a case that relied partly on evidence from the now-discredited paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow. Last month the Criminal Cases Review Commission said it was sending her case back to the Court of Appeal after considering "new expert medical evidence".

Anthony, from Yeovil, Somerset, was among 28 cases referred to the commission after Angela Cannings' conviction was quashed in January last year. Mrs Cannings was cleared on appeal of killing two of her sons, Jason, seven weeks, and Matthew, 18 weeks.

Deputy Chief Justice Lord Justice Judge, the judge who freed Mrs Cannings on appeal, told Anthony that he was sympathetic to her application for bail. But after discussions with lawyers, the judge said it had not been possible to finalise her arrangements. It is believed the difficulty in granting bail immediately concerned the provision of safe accommodation.

Anthony, who is being held at Bronzefield jail in Ashford, west London, appeared in court for yesterday's preliminary hearing dressed in her prison clothes. Her appeal will be heard in April, with a similar case in which Chah'Oh-Niyol Kai-Whitewind is challenging her conviction for murdering her 12-week-old son.

James Chadwin QC, for Anthony, told Lord Justice Judge that she had been in custody for six-and-a-half years and was hoping her convictions would be quashed immediately. But the judge said that, sitting alone, he had no jurisdiction to allow the appeal. A three-judge court must decide the matter, regardless of the prosecution's stance.

Anthony's solicitor, George Hawks, confirmed outside court that it had not been possible to "finalise the bail situation". He said: "That could happen at any stage. She arrived here today [the Royal Courts of Justice] not knowing what was going to happen. That was obviously very disturbing for her. She has heard what the Crown has had to say about their views on the appeal.

"The bail application could not be proceeded with any further today because there was concern that the appropriate arrangements could not be put in place. 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."

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, said: "I am glad that the case of Donna Anthony is now going before the Court of Appeal in April. This case was identified by my review of potentially unsafe convictions of infant deaths."

Anthony was found guilty of two murder charges after a trial at Bristol Crown Court in November 1998. Jordan died in Yeovil hospital in 1996, an apparent victim of cot death. The death of Michael, in March 1997, prompted a police investigation into both deaths after medical checks proved inconclusive. In both instances Anthony tried to revive the babies but they died in hospital.

MEADOW'S OTHER CASES

TRUPTI PATEL: She was put on trial in June 2003, accused of killing three babies between 1997 and 2001. Sir Roy Meadow told Reading Crown Court of "Meadow's law" which holds that "one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, unless proven otherwise". 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.

ANGELA CANNINGS: Freed on appeal in December 2003 after it was heard her grandmother and great-grandmother lost babies to cot death. Mrs Cannings, 40, from Salisbury in Wiltshire, had been jailed for life in April 2002 for the murder of seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999. She had also lost her first child, aged 13 weeks, to cot death in 1989.

SALLY CLARK: The solicitor was jailed for life in 1999 for murdering her sons Harry, aged eight weeks, and Christopher, 11 weeks. Sir Roy said the chance of both having sudden infant death syndrome was one in 73 million. Mrs Clark, 39, of Wilmslow, Cheshire, was freed in 2003 after a court heard there was no statistical basis for the figure.