Mothers convicted of killing babies may get case review

Attorney General considers investigation of all convictions where discredited Professor Sir Roy Meadow gave evidence
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The Independent Online

Several mothers convicted of killing their babies on evidence from Professor Sir Roy Meadow may have their cases reviewed in the wake of the Angela Cannings case. The Attorney General is considering whether to launch an investigation into all convictions that involved Sir Roy.

Mrs Cannings was freed on Wednesday after the Court of Appeal quashed her convictions for murdering her two baby sons. She had been found guilty after Sir Roy gave what was described as "wholly erroneous" evidence on the chances of more than one cot death in the same family.

The Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, yesterday called the Cannings case as "appalling".

At least six women are believed to be serving life sentences after the now discredited cot-death expert told juries he believed they had murdered their children. The next "cot death killing" case involving Sir Roy could come before the Court of Appeal within months.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is considering whether to refer the case of Donna Anthony back to the Appeal Court. Mrs Anthony, 30, was jailed for life in 1998 for murdering her 11-month-old daughter, Jordan, in 1996 and four-month old Michael in 1997. Doctors initially believed Jordan was a victim of cot death but when Michael died, Sir Roy helped to build the case that she had smothered both of them.

Mrs Anthony, from Yeovil, Somerset, is serving two life sentences in the high-security Durham Jail, alongside prisoners such as Rose West.

Her solicitor George Hawks said yesterday: "We want to see this appeal fast-tracked in the wake of the Cannings case. Sir Roy helped build the case against Donna. Without him, she would never even have been charged."

Sir Roy told the jury in the Anthony case it was "beyond comprehension" that both babies could have suffered cot death, and that there was a one in a million chance that the children had died from natural causes.

Maxine Robinson has been in prison since 1995 after being convicted, again on Sir Roy's evidence, of murdering her 18-month-old daughter and five-month-old son on the same day in 1993.

Mrs Robinson, 24, from Chester-le-Street Co Durham, had lost her eldest daughter Vicki to cot death in 1989. She fell victim to Sir Roy's three-in-one theory, that unless proven otherwise, three cot deaths in one family equals murder. Her defence team claim all three children may have had an allergic response to a paddling pool in which they had all been playing before they died.

Dozens more mothers, who have never faced criminal charges but have had surviving children taken away on Sir Roy's recommendations, are now planning legal action over their cases.

Sir Roy was used in criminal cases and Family Court hearings to rule on babies were at risk of harm from their mothers. Jean Robinson, of the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (Aims), said some women were now refusing to go to ante-natal care, or admit they were suffering from post-natal depression, because they were terrified their babies would be taken away.

She said: "It is not just what Sir Roy has done in the criminal courts. There are women who have lost a baby to cot death, who have never been charged, who have then had their other children taken from them and adopted because Sir Roy said they were responsible. At least in a criminal court everyone hears the evidence and can appeal. In the family courts, the evidence is heard behind closed doors and these women have no right of appeal. It is scandalous."

Mrs Robinson said she knew of "dozens" of mothers whose children had been taken into care and adopted on the strength of Sir Roy's theories. "Some women who have suffered post-natal depression, or lost one baby to cot death, are now terrified to ask for help when they get pregnant again because they are afraid their babies will be taken from them," she said.

"They are refusing to have post-natal depression screening, or are just lying because they don't want to go through that trauma. It is horrendous."