Cannings' compensation claim is rejected

Cahal Milmo
Wednesday 12 January 2005 01:00

Campaigners and legal experts accused the Home Office yesterday of flouting human rights laws over its refusal to pay compensation to a mother wrongly convicted of the murders of two of her children.

Campaigners and legal experts accused the Home Office yesterday of flouting human rights laws over its refusal to pay compensation to a mother wrongly convicted of the murders of two of her children.

Angela Cannings, who spent 18 months in prison for killing her infant sons, had her conviction quashed a year ago after judges ruled that expert evidence given by Professor Sir Roy Meadow had been flawed.

During the fight to secure her release, her husband had to sell the family home and she was forced to live separately from her surviving daughter for two years before the trial.

Despite her ordeal, the Home Office rejected an application for compensation from Mrs Cannings, 41, at least partially on the grounds that Sir Roy was an independent witness.Campaigners claimed it defied provisions under Section 5 of the Human Rights Act which states that "everyone who has been the victim of arrest or detention in contravention of the provisions of this article shall have an enforceable right to compensation".

The acquittal of Mrs Cannings was the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving mothers wrongly accused over the unexplained deaths of their infants, including the solicitor Sally Clark, who is still waiting to hear if her claim for compensation after three years in prison has been successful.

Michael Naughton, a law lecturer at the University of Bristol and founder of the UK Innocence Network, said: "The compensation scheme operated by the Home Office is contrary to the human rights legislation it introduced. Someone whose conviction has been quashed by the courts is entitled to compensation, whatever the grounds of that decision.

"Mrs Cannings faces up to three years before she could prove that before the British courts and then another two or three years if she needed to take the case to Europe," he added.

The Home Office insisted last night that it was "confident" that its compensation system complied with the Human Rights Act. But legal experts said that officials dealing with the compensation claim had failed to take any account of the cost to Mrs Cannings of the loss of her liberty or the effect on her family of their long legal battle.

Compensation will only be given if the defendant has had to depart from the normal appeals process or can be shown to have suffered from the actions of a "deficient" member of a public authority.

Speaking from her home in Cornwall, Mrs Cannings said: "We have lost four or five years of our lives and none of it was our doing. The authorities took over our lives and now they are saying no one is responsible."

She added that she was appealing against the ruling.

Mrs Cannings was jailed for life in 2002 after being convicted of murdering her sons - seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999 - partly on evidence from Sir Roy.

The Home Office refused to comment on Mrs Cannings' compensation claim. But officials inferred that her claim had fallen outside its criteria for both compulsory and discretionary payments because Professor Meadow was a private expert asked to "offer their opinions and expertise" on evidence rather than a state employee.

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