Woman to be questioned over death of 8 children

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The Independent Online

A 60-year-old woman tried to take her own life yesterday after learning that police were investigating the deaths of up to eight of her children more than 30 years ago.

A 60-year-old woman tried to take her own life yesterday after learning that police were investigating the deaths of up to eight of her children more than 30 years ago.

The woman from Livingston, near Edinburgh, was taken to hospital by ambulance yesterday afternoon after swallowing pills. Last night she was in a serious but stable condition.

Police are investigating the deaths of children, all under 12 months, in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. They were originally believed to have been victims of cot death or natural causes.

Earlier a spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said the procurator fiscal had ordered an investigation after new evidence suggested that the deaths may have been suspicious. "The inquiry has only just begun and there are many strands which need to be investigated," said the spokeswoman, who added that it was too early to confirm the number of children involved.

"At this early stage it would be wrong to prejudge the outcome but it is clear that it will be a complex and sensitive case and may be prolonged," she said. "We will need to work closely with experts in a variety of agencies and at a number of locations and our findings will be reported back to the procurator fiscal, who will then decide on what action should be taken."

The deaths are understood to have occurred in different parts of Scotland and the north of England. The woman, who was in her twenties when she had the children, moved around the country frequently before settling in Livingston five years ago.

The deaths were not linked at the time because the woman never admitted to having had any other children and her nomadic lifestyle meant that during each pregnancy there was nobody involved in her case who knew her medical history.

"This is a very delicate investigation and it may be some time, possibly several months, before any additional information is released," the police spokeswoman said.

Lothian and Borders Police has set up a team of detectives under the command of Detective Superintendent Alan McNally. They were hoping to interview the woman fully once they had ascertained the exact birth and death dates for all the children. They want to find death certificateswhich will provide them with the official explanation of how the children died and reveal the names of the doctors involved. They will also try to find out whether the children were cremated or buried and apply for the exhumation of anyremains.

In some cases of cot death, police investigate the possibility that the parents were suffering from a mental illness, in the mother's case possibly Munchausen's syndrome by proxy. The condition, named after an 18th-century storyteller, Baron von Munchausen, is often used to explain severe forms of child abuse. Sufferers fake or induce symptoms in others, usually their own children, to gain attention for themselves.

Beverley Allitt is Britain's most notorious sufferer of the condition. She became known as the "Angel of Death" after she was convicted of murdering four children and injuring nine between 1991 and 1993 at Grantham Hospital in Lincolnshire, where she worked as a nurse. Allitt is serving 13 life sentences at the high-security Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire.