Mother jailed for murder of son is cleared

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The Independent Online

A mother convicted of murdering her four-month-old son after a trial at which the discredited paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow gave evidence was cleared yesterday at a retrial.

A mother convicted of murdering her four-month-old son after a trial at which the discredited paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow gave evidence was cleared yesterday at a retrial.

Margaret Smith, 39, collapsed in court after the retrial jury found her not guilty of smothering her baby, Keith, at their home in Hull, in 1994.

The jury at Newcastle Crown Court was not told that this was a retrial and that the mother of nine children had been convicted of Keith's murder in 2002, but cleared of killing her five-month-old daughter, Kelly, who died in 1992. It was also revealed after the retrial that Mrs Smith had been jailed for stabbing her first husband to death.

Her defence team won an appeal in Keith's case after showing that the evidence given by Sir Roy, at the original trial was prejudicial and should have been inadmissible. It was the latest in a string of cases involving evidence from Sir Roy in which the original conviction was overturned.

Mrs Smith, from a family of travellers originally from Ayrshire in Scotland, was accused by a seven-year-old girl of smothering her son. The girl claimed she saw Mrs Smith put a pillow over his face to stop him crying at the family home in St John's Grove, Hull, in September 1994.

She told police in 2000 that when she asked what Mrs Smith was doing, the mother said she was feeding the baby.

But the jury heard there were "inconsistencies" in the girl's account. She claimed she was away from school on the day Keith died, but a school register showed she was present. Mrs Smith did not give evidence.

A post-mortem examination showed cot death was the most likely cause of death, as had happened two years previously with her daughter Kelly.

The jury heard that the family home was filthy and a neighbour told the court that Mrs Smith referred to Keith as "it". The mother told police she fed her baby "chips, mash, minced beef and peas". On the day his son was found dead, the defendant's husband, also called Keith, did not go straight to the hospital. Sergeant Keith Baskill told the jury: "Mr Smith said he wanted to go to the post office to cash the child allowance because he wanted to go drinking with his friends that afternoon."

At the hearing into baby Keith's death in Leeds, Sir Roy said the killing of a baby by its parents was often preceded by a trip to hospital during which a parent claimed the infant had a serious illness.

The original trial was told Mrs Smith took her son to hospital some months before. But her defence team successfully argued that Sir Roy's evidence should not have been heard.

The retrial jury was not told that Mrs Smith and her second husband were jailed for six years for stabbing her first husband to death in 1995. Robert Brannan, 53, was discovered in his bath with 51 stab wounds. The couple blamed each other and were cleared of murder at York Crown Court but jailed for six years for manslaughter.

Mrs Smith's solicitor, Richard Thompson, said: "During the course of this trial [Mrs Smith] has been under enormous pressure and she will just want to get back to her husband and put her life back together after three and a half years in prison."

Yesterday's verdict follows successful appeals by mothers convicted of killing their children on the basis of Sir Roy'stheory of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The theory espouses that some mothers harm their children to draw attention to themselves. More than 300 cases in which parents were convicted of killing their babies are being reviewed.