"In retrospect, the signs were there - that Roy would go too far," said Gillian Paterson, Sir Roy’s former wife, and the mother of his two adult children.
“He found it everywhere. He was over the top. He saw mothers with Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy wherever he looked.”
"I wish that somebody could have said to him: ‘Roy, they’re not everywhere. They do exist, but they’re rare’. I wish somebody could have stopped him."
“I can’t go into details, but I’m sure he has a serious problem with women.
"Angela Cannings said the prison system had destroyed her family bonds and they had found it impossible to rebuild. The severance of the Cannings family on the say-so of one misguided expert witness meant that Jade became much closer to her father than her mother and she suffered from a condition called "separation anxiety".
Sally Clark said that, after her release from prison, she felt uncomfortable joining the other mothers at her surviving son’s school, because there would always be a small proportion of society that prefers to believe the obsessive conduct of expert witnesses that used to pervade the realms of childcare and family Courts
Why an Expert Witness is in the Dock
News.Scotsman.com -Sat. 24 Jan 2004
Professor Sir Roy Meadow was credited with discovering Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, a particularly insidious form of child abuse. When he stated that one sudden infant death was a tragedy, two suspicious and three murder, until proven otherwise, his aphorism was dubbed Meadow’s Law.
By appearing as an expert witness at the trials of mothers convicted of murdering their babies, he had helped jail some of the most repulsive criminals our society has produced. Or so we thought.
Over the past 12 months, Sir Roy has seen his professional reputation all but destroyed.
In January last year, Sally Clark walked free from jail when the Appeal Court overturned her convictions in 1999 for murdering her baby sons, Christopher and Harry.
In June, Trupti Patel was acquitted of killing her three youngest babies, Amar, Jamie and Mia.
And last month, the Appeal Court threw out Angela Cannings’ conviction for the murder of her little boys, after 19 months in jail.
Sir Roy acted as an expert witness for the prosecution at all three trials.
Following Mrs Cannings’ release, three Appeal Court judges ruled that a mother should not be convicted in cot death cases on expert medical opinion alone.
Now it is Sir Roy who is in the dock of public and professional opinion: the existence of Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy is being questioned; Sir Roy is to be investigated by the General Medical Council, the doctors’ governing body, and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, is to examine dozens, if not hundreds, of criminal convictions to see if more mothers have been wrongly convicted of killing their children. Sir Roy has been vilified in the press, with one tabloid describing him as "the child-snatcher-in-chief".
Sir Roy’s glittering medical career is shattered. But to some who have known him most of his life, there is a sad inevitability to the situation he is in now.
"In retrospect, the signs were there - in who Roy was - that he would go too far," said Gillian Paterson, Sir Roy’s former wife, and the mother of his two adult children.
"He found it everywhere. He was over the top. He saw mothers with Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy wherever he looked.
"I wish that somebody could have said to him: ‘Roy, they’re not everywhere. They do exist, but they’re rare’. I wish somebody could have stopped him."
As the post mortem examination of the professor’s career begins, questions abound. How many innocent mothers have been jailed because of the evidence he, and doctors who followed his theories, gave at trials which should never have taken place? How many children were wrongly removed from their parents at behind-closed-doors family law hearings, because sheriffs and judges unquestioningly gave credence to his beliefs? How did a man now so vilified rise to become a criminal prosecutor’s expert witness of choice, a position which gave him unparalleled power to shatter so many lives?
And what is the character of this 70-year-old retired doctor, whose name will forever be associated with one of the most serious miscarriages of justice the UK has ever known?
According to his former wife, Sir Roy is a misogynist - a claim which will be seized upon by those who have accused him of conducting a witch hunt against innocent mothers. "I don’t think he likes women," said Ms Paterson, a journalist and writer. "He’s not gay. I don’t think he’s gay. But, although I can’t go into details, I’m sure he has a serious problem with women," she said.
Samuel Roy Meadow was born in June 1933, the son of a chartered accountant from Wigan, Lancashire. His mother was a housewife, but according to those who know Sir Roy, her ambition for her son, and his elder sister, Pauline, was fierce.
"Roy’s parents weren’t wealthy," family sources have said, "but they were incredibly driven for their children to succeed. Doris, especially, was fantastically proud of Roy. But her affection was - I would say - conditional upon him doing well. Roy knew the score. He had to do well. Doris was very judging. Her children were her trophies in this rather dreary, small town."
After studying at Wigan Grammar School and Bromsgrove School, he won a place to study medicine at Worcester College, Oxford, graduating in 1957. While working as a GP in Banbury, Oxfordshire he became interested in child healthcare, and by 1980 he had risen to become the head of paediatrics at St James Hospital, in Leeds - one of the most prestigious posts in his field.
In 1961, Sir Roy had married Gillian MacLennan, the daughter of the British ambassador to Ireland, a match which must have rocketed him up the social ladder. Their children, Julian and Anna, were born in 1963 and 1965 respectively. Now, his former wife says that although popular with colleagues, Sir Roy had no close friends.
She also recalls how he would visit the Anna Freud Centre - Anna was the psychologist daughter of Sigmund Freud - for what she described as a "Bloomsbury-set" chats about child health.
In a bizarre coincidence, sources claim that Sir Roy starred in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, playing the role of the discredited Judge Danforth who is at the heart of the witch-hunt that is the backbone of the play. "Roy confided in me that he found it an uncomfortable part because he identified with this judge more than he was happy with," a source recalled. "I always remember Roy playing that part. He was made for it. He was brilliant."
It was in 1977 that Sir Roy wrote the paper that was to change his life: "Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP): the Hinterlands of Child Abuse."
In the study, Sir Roy described the cases of two sick children whose symptoms had left doctors puzzled.
It transpired that in the first case, a mother had added some of her own blood to her child’s urine sample. In the second, the mother had allegedly poisoned her toddler with excessive salt doses.
Sir Roy wrote that both mothers were suffering from Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy. The new illness took its name from Munchausen’s syndrome - the term coined in 1951 by Dr Richard Asher (the father of the actress Jane Asher), in reference to Baron von Munchausen, the 18th-century German mercenary famed for his fabulous lies.
Munchausen’s syndrome sufferers fake symptoms of illness and will travel from hospital to hospital to secure surgical and medical procedures for illnesses they do not have, simply to get attention.
Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy is a more sinister variant of Munchausen’s syndrome, in which parents - almost always the mother - replicate or even cause symptoms of illness in their children, simply to draw attention to themselves.
His findings were published in the Lancet medical journal, and attracted worldwide attention.
Ms Paterson recalls: "He took a lot of flak at the time. Nobody wanted to believe mothers did that sort of thing. Later [in 1993], he was vindicated with the Beverley Allitt trial (The nurse who murdered four children in her care and harmed a number of others). That’s when they stuck him on a pedestal, made him the number one expert witness in the land, and proceeded to believe everything he said."
But it was in 1989 that Sir Roy coined the now infamous Meadow’s Law, when he wrote in The ABC of Child Abuse: "One sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder until proved otherwise."
It was this phrase, which captured the imagination of public and press when Sir Roy was called as an expert witness for the prosecution at the trial of Mrs Clark.
Mrs Clark was found guilty and jailed, but her conviction was overturned last year, after her husband, Steve, unearthed new evidence that the baby had a life-threatening infection at the time of death. It was Mrs Clark’s case that was to turn the tide against Sir Roy. After more than 20 years as an expert witness, Sir Roy now stands accused of failing to provide a scientific basis for his claims.
Jean Golding, the professor of epidemiology at Bristol University, was originally asked to be a prosecution witness at the trial of Mrs Cannings. But her reading of the pre-trial evidence swung her to the defence.
In court she savaged Sir Roy’s methodology, saying that 81 cases on which he based his outlook did not stand up to scrutiny, because he had no control group. (In fact, Sir Roy has admitted shredding the raw data on which he based his beliefs.)
Prof Golding told a Radio 4 File on Four programme in July 2002 that Sir Roy’s statement "lacked scientific rigour" adding: "I called it stamp collecting ... you pick out the cases that you want to present and then you present them."
The Royal Statistical Society also wrote to the Lord Chancellor stating there was no statistical basis for Sir Roy’s court claim that there was only a one in 73 million chance of Mrs Clark losing two babies in sudden and unexplained circumstances.
Shortly afterwards Mrs Patel was acquitted of murdering her babies - and now Mrs Cannings has seen her conviction overturned.
Presented with a situation of three mothers found innocent, the government has been forced to react, hence Lord Goldsmith’s review. Thousands of other cases dealt with by local authorities are expected to be reviewed.
So how did Sir Roy maintain so much credibility for so long in our supposedly rigorous courts of law?
Dr Lucy Blakemore-Brown, a psychologist from Brunel University who has studied Sir Roy’s work for some time, says juries and judges quite simply trusted a man whom society had rewarded by making him a doctor, professor and knight of the realm. Dr Blakemore-Brown also believes that Sir Roy’s turn of phrase has played a crucial part in his credibility in court.
She says: "One, two, three, ABC ... 73 million to one.... these are phrases a jury can understand amid the foreign language of the court - but why did the judges not realise Sir Roy had no science to back his claims?"
Whatever the questions hanging over Sir Roy now, he has undoubtedly enjoyed widespread respect among his peers. A number of colleagues have jumped to his defence in recent weeks.
Harvey Marcovitch was a paediatrician for more than three decades and is a member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Health Care and a member of the General Medical Council of the UK.
He suggests that a simple case of supply and demand may have helped Sir Roy become a pre-eminent expert witness: there is a limited number of paediatricians; those practising are unlikely to be able to clear two or three weeks of their diary to give evidence at a trial; of those, many will not be experienced or expert; many are reluctant to risk the public scrutiny of a case in which they have no need to get involved.
Dr Marcovitch explains: "You are left with few expert witnesses. Then, if one performs well in court, the lawyers will employ him for their next trial. The word gets round that this guy is good, and he is called again and again. So he become known as the foremost expert witness in his field - it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Dr Marcovitch is in no doubt that Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy exists. He points to a recent study of UK paediatricians carried out by the British Paediatrics Surveillance Unit, which found that doctors were discovering between one and two cases of the syndrome annually per million head of population. He adds: "I do not think you will find a paediatrician who does not believe MSbP exists. But it is rare, and over the years the term was used to describe a wider and wider range of things. For example, Beverley Allitt did not have MSbP as suggested at the time - she was a killer."
It was because of concerns about the increasingly blurred definition of Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy that the Royal College officially dropped the term in 2002. It now uses the terms "fabricated" and "induced illnesses".
Sir Roy was not answering the telephone at his home near Leeds, yesterday, where he lives with his second wife, Marianne.
Whatever the GMC and Attorney General’s investigations discover, it will be painful for all involved.
In the past, Sir Roy was applauded for thinking the unthinkable, and he has no doubt rescued some infants from abuse. But far from being a children’s champion, he may have simply championed his own cause - at the expense of truth.
Pivotal evidence now deemed ‘manifestly wrong’ and ‘grossly misleading’
Over the past five years Prof Meadow’s evidence was pivotal in the trials of three women:
• 22 November, 1999: Angela Cannings was arrested and questioned about the death of her four-month-old son.
• 26 November, 1999: Sally Clark is sentenced to life imprisonment for killing her two baby sons in 1996 and 1998. Prof Meadow gave evidence to the effect that any more than three cot deaths in one family could be construed as involving murder.
• 16 April, 2002: Angela Cannings is jailed for life at Winchester Crown Court after being found guilty by a jury of smothering her two sons.
• 29 January, 2003: Sally Clark’s conviction is quashed as the appeal judges condemned Prof Meadow’s claim that the chances of having two cot deaths in one family was 73 million to one as "manifestly wrong" and "grossly misleading", and express concern that key evidence was not put before a jury.
• 12 June, 2003: Trupti Patel is acquitted of killing her three babies. During the case, Prof Meadow gives evidence, and a small group of protesters attempt to distribute leaflets questioning his credibility.
• 10 December, 2003: Angela Cannings is freed after the Court of Appeal overturned the verdict on the ground that the convictions - which were based on Prof Meadow’s research - were "unsafe".
‘The prosecution lines up their expert witnesses, the defence lines up theirs. If you want to get to the truth, having such an adversarial system, with one set of doctors pitted against the other, is hardly the right way to go about it.'
Meadow told the jury that unexpected deaths - cot deaths - are not caused by any genetic factors. This is just plain wrong. When a baby is born, it is protected by the mother's immune system. As the baby grows, Mum's immune system fades away and the baby's switches in. But if the gene is faulty, then the immune system doesn't kick in - and the baby is prey to any infection going.
Dr David Drucker and his team at Manchester University found the faulty gene in 2001 - or part of it: if a mother has a particular form of the IL-10 gene, then the child is several times more likely to suffer a cot death. Drucker's faulty gene and what Meadow told the Patel jury don't square. One has to be wrong. Drucker told BBC 5Live Report in 2001 that Meadow's Law is 'scientifically illiterate'.
"Dr Williams took post-mortem cultures from the stomach wall, both bronchi, both lungs, the trachea, the throat, and, most importantly, the cerebro-spinal fluid. Staphylococcus aureus was present in all of the sites."
Professor Morris of the University of Lancaster (subsequently) concluded that the possibility of infection arising after death could be excluded, as "Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is normally sterile". The presence of a pathogen is therefore highly significant. There is no evidence that staphylococcal organisms could get into the CSF after death. The fluid contained a number of polymorphs [white blood cells], showing there had been a reaction to the organism and therefore that it was present prior to death."
Professor Morris noted that "overwhelming staphylococcal infection... is a very serious and potentially lethal disease. It can progress so quickly that death occurs suddenly without obvious pre-existing illness. It is a recognised cause of sudden and unexpected death in infancy. This is natural disease." On the basis of the evidence now available, this was the most likely explanation of Harry's death. He emphasised that "no other conclusion could be sustained."
The Clark family sent the new material to Glyn Walters, a retired consultant in chemical pathology. He, too, concluded that Harry's death was due to "a disseminated staphylococcal infection". In fact, in his post-mortem report on Harry, Dr Williams categorically stated: "There is no evidence of acute infection... there is no evidence that this child died as a result of natural disease." In the light of the new material, this is now in doubt.
"The jury were aware Dr Williams's findings were the subject of much criticism," said Michael Mackey, Clark's lawyer. "They never knew he had commissioned tests which showed, at the least, a potential natural cause of death to which he made no reference [in his evidence].
BBC Radio5 Transcript - John Sweeney
15 July 2000 - “73 million to one” - http://portia.org/chapter10/SallyR5.htm
These cot-death convictions are just plain wrong
Today we raise the possibility of an appalling number of miscarriages of justice. Sally Clark’s recorded voice: “I now face the minute-by-minute torture of life imprisonment, knowing I did not harm my little boys.” Paul Sykes: “That sentence is not rigorous. It’s just wrong. You have lost faith in the British judicial system?” - “Absolutely. My faith in the system is just destroyed.”
The discovery of a cot death gene this spring means that innocent mothers who have suffered the unbearable pain of double cot deaths may have been jailed for murders that never actually happened. Recorded voice again: “I’m Sally Clark. I’m 36 years of age. I’m a solicitor. I have been married to Stephen Clark, who is also a solicitor, for nearly 11 years We had three children, all of them boys. Christopher, my first-born, and Harry, my second little boy, are no longer alive. My third son is nearly two-and-a-half years old. I am able to see him, just the two of us, for one wonderful day every month.”
That was the haunting voice of Sally Clark, now in prison serving a double life sentence for the cruellest crime imaginable, murdering her own baby boys, Christopher, aged three months, and Harry, aged two months. She could spend the rest of her life in prison for the double murder she says she did not commit. When she was found guilty in November 99, the papers had a field day. They ran claims that she was a binge drinker, none of which had come before the court. The Sunday Mirror: “Fall from grace for the woman with everything;” the Daily Mail, “Driven by drink and despair, the solicitor who killed her babies;” and the local evening paper, the Manchester Evening News: “Pregnant days after murdering baby son.”
It was a classic media witch-burning. Steve Clark, Sally’s husband, who stood by her: “Reading the newspapers, how they reported her after the conviction you would think Sally Clark was a witch. Well, she isn’t, 90% of what was said in the newspapers was totally and utterly untrue.” Sally’s first child, Christopher, was born in September 96 and died three months later. At the time he was certified to have died naturally from a lung infection. Her second child Harry was born in November 97 and died in January 98; the next month, Sally was arrested for murder. She was accused of smothering baby Christopher and shaking baby Harry to death.
At her trial Professor Sir Roy Meadow told the jury that there was only a one in 73 million chance of Sally having two cot deaths, an event, he said, that would happen once every hundred years. It was a devastating sound-bite and the jury convicted her ten to two. Professor Meadow is the inventor of Munchausen’s by Proxy, the controversial theory that some mothers harm or even murder their babies to seek attention. We asked him to appear on this programme but he declined. He has, however, given a rare interview to an American film maker: “You just have to recognise there are some mothers and fathers who have enormous difficulties, often through no fault of their own, who do terrible things to their children but as a paediatrician you don’t hate them, you hate what has happened to the child. Sometimes it makes me physically sick when I get involved with a case. I’m just not eating. I vomit. I’m so upset.”
Sir Roy has been knighted for his services to the study of child abuse. He was the first president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and is the author of The ABC of Child Abuse, the leading textbook in the area. His mind-set is encapsulated by the following saying, quoted in this book: “One sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder until proved otherwise. A crude aphorism but a sensible working rule for anyone encountering these tragedies.”You could call “unless proven otherwise two is suspicious and three is murder” Meadow’s Law.
No-one is suggesting that mothers never kill their babies, but Professor Meadow’s crude aphorism is now used as a rule of thumb by doctors, police and social workers. It risks tarring all mothers who have suffered multiple cot deaths as murderers. It presumes guilt, not innocence. And the presumption of guilt kicks in at the very moment a second cot death occurs when an innocent mother would be going through unendurable pain. Mothers like Sue Sale: she lost two babies to cot death in the 1980’s before Meadow’s Law had become established wisdom.. She picked up her baby knowing he was dead, knowing he was the second to die. “I didn’t want to have to let him go because I thought, if I ring people they’re going to try and take him away, and I couldn’t believe that this could have happened again to me. It was the most awful, dreadful, shock.”
The deaths were investigated but Sue Sale was never charged. After all, she had done nothing wrong. Since then the climate has changed dramatically. Professionals are advised, be suspicious and think dirty. Is it possible that today the odds could be stacked against an innocent mother who has suffered two cot deaths but has not harmed her children in any way? In the Sally Clark case the forensic evidence was hotly contested and this was a murder trial where, let us remember, the standard of proof ought to be beyond reasonable doubt. Enter Meadow’s sound-bite of one chance in 73 million for two babies dying naturally. Prosecuting barrister Robin Spencer asked Sir Roy, “So is this right? Not only would the chance be one in 73 million but in addition in these two deaths there are features which would be regarded as suspicious in any event?” And Sir Roy answered: “I believe so.”It was a smoking gun statistic. In one sound bite you had a compelling case against Sally Clark.To get to the figure family circumstances are factored in. A single-parent smoker is more likely to suffer a cot death than a middle class family like Clark’s. So you arrive at a figure of one cot death in 8,500 in a family like Sally’s. The Clarks suffered two deaths. Professor Meadow multiplied 8,500 by 8,500 and arrived at the chance of one in 73 million.
“It is to Probability Theory the equivalent of what to arithmetic would be saying that two plus two equals five” - Dr Stephen Watkins, Director of Public Health, Stockport. He was so troubled by Professor Sir Roy Meadow’s evidence that he wrote a damning critique in the BMJ. “I felt I had to write that. The way Sir Roy Meadow had used statistics was completely wrong. He had calculated the probability of one specified individual having two cot deaths. The actual figure he should have calculated was the probability of some person having two cot deaths.” It may not happen to you, yes, but it will happen to someone. “I’ll give you an example. The probability of me winning the lottery this Saturday is very low. But the probability of somebody winning the lottery this Saturday is quite high. And what Sir Roy is doing is exactly the equivalent of saying that whoever wins the lottery must have committed fraud because of the low probability of that individual winning the lottery.”
Dr Watkins has a vivid memory of where he was when the news broke of Sir Roy’s sound-bite “I was actually having a dinner with three other public health doctors at the time that we heard this figure reported on the television and the reaction of each of the four of us was that this is a misuse of statistics. This is wrong. This is not correct evidence.” Dr Watkins’ is not a lone voice. Peter Donnelly is professor of Statistical Science at Oxford University. He points out that a key issue was whether Sir Roy was right to multiply the risk factors of the two deaths to get to the one in 73 million number. “It is only valid statistically to multiply the numbers if it has been established that whether or not one child dies in a household of cot death is completely independent of whether or not another child dies in the household. In order to present that kind of number in court one should have evidence that establishes that independence.” By independence Professor Donnelly means that for the one in 73 million number to be right the two deaths have to be proved to be wholly unconnected. For example, that there were no environmental factors in common. “It’s just wrong scientifically to multiply those two numbers together unless the independence has been established. If it hasn’t, then it’s at best speculation and depending on the circumstances of the case, possibly extremely misleading. It’s poor science.” How rigorous is it? “Unless the independence has been established, it’s wrong. In that sense it’s not rigorous, it’s just wrong.”
So the Crown’s case contained a hidden contradiction. Sir Roy would have had to assume that the two deaths were not connected but the two deaths were connected . . . so said Professor Meadow to the court. Sir Roy was having his cake and eating it. The defence did not use an expert statistician to challenge Sir Roy’s figure, intent as it was on attacking the forensic evidence. This decision may have cost Sally Clark dear. But how could a distinguished scientist like Sir Roy make such a mistake? Dr Stephen Watkins: “I think he has used techniques which lay beyond his expertise.” Dr Watkins’ article in the British Medical Journal which attacked Sir Roy’s use of statistics was called “Conviction by mathematical error?” Professor Sir Roy Meadow has not replied to the attack. No statistician we have contacted has said that the one in 73 million figure in the way that Sir Roy used it is defensible. The damage to Sally Clark was that it presented to the jury, confronted as it was with a mass of complicated conflicting forensic evidence, a simple but false certainty.
Last October the Court of Appeal turned down Sally Clark’s first attempt to clear her name. The court ruled that the 73 million figure used at the criminal trial was a sideshow. But Five Life Report has been told by a source that one juror has said, “Whatever you say about Sally Clark, you can’t get around the one in 73 million figure.” In May this year the Solicitors’ Tribunal met to decide whether Sally Clark, a convicted double murderer, should be struck off. Normally this would be a rubber stamp This is part of her plea, presented at the tribunal on video tape: “I was advised before my trial that if I put in a plea of infanticide I would probably serve no term of imprisonment. I am where I am today because I could not tell any lies. I did not lie then and I cannot lie now even if it would procure my immediate release.” The solicitors’ tribunal decided only to suspend her. This unique decision reflects growing anxiety about the soundness of her conviction. Others are convinced a great wrong has been done. Frank Lockyer is Sally’s father; he is a retired divisional commander of Wiltshire police. “There is a photograph of her standing there with her mother. There’s a photograph of them both with her first child, Christopher. People who look at photographs and videos of Sally at the time with her children say we don’t want to see any more; the body language of relationships . . . I mean to say, if that woman . . . I can’t tell you . . . could murder that child. It’s ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it’s just ridiculous. You know, she’d have to be a monster. She’s no monster.“
Brian Lowry is emeritus professor of medical genetics and paediatrics at the University of Calgary, Canada. What does he think of Meadow’s Law? “I think that’s frankly wrong, and most misleading and it’s time someone challenged that viewpoint. In transcripts he’s quoted as saying that each death has the characteristics of unnatural causes, which is enhanced by the fact that two deaths have occurred about the same age in one home. Well, that could just as easily be genetic and to quote that in the prosecution, I think, is shocking.” Dr Ian Rushton is a retired paediatric pathologist with 40 years’ experience carrying out autopsies on infants. He was called for the defence in the Sally Clark case. “I feel very uneasy about the problems that mothers who lose two or three babies have at the moment, because they are basically in a situation where they have to prove their innocence by obtaining medical information to counteract a theory. The problem is that there is as present knowledge stands no such evidence.”
Enter the University of Manchester: this year they announced “Cot death gene identified.” Scientists looked at the DNA of 23 babies who died from cot deaths or sudden infant death syndrome - SIDS for short. They compared it to the genetic make-up of normal babies. In some cot death babies they found a common gene. “The microbiology we did finding that babies with cot deaths more likely to have bacteria that produced poisonous substances such as toxins is what actually made us think of particular genes.” Dr David Drucker, Reader in microbiology at Manchester University, and one of the team that tracked down the cot death gene. Dr Drucker has been working on cot deaths for 15 years. The others include Prof. Ian Hutchinson and a husband-and-wife team of scientists who have suffered their own cot-death tragedy. More discoveries will follow. “In terms of applying it to cot death it’s almost as though we had opened a door to a new room and we have really just taken one step inside it at the moment and we’re waiting to explore what is that room.”
What does Dr Drucker think of Meadow’s Law, that unless proven otherwise, two is suspicious and three is murder? “I would say it is really scientifically illiterate, because as a microbiologist in particular I can think of all sorts of diseases connected with bacteria where, if one member of the family is ill, you can’t just assume that for any other member the odds are the same as they were for the first person who was ill. We know from experience that every time there is a flu epidemic, if one person is ill, it is actually more likely that another member of the family would become ill.” So what is the significance of the discovery of a cot death gene on Prof Meadow’s smoking-gun statistic? Professor Lowry: “I think it is absolute rubbish to say the one in 73 million chance because in fact Sally Clark’s second chance might have been as high as one-in-four so the way they misused the statistic is atrocious.” A chance of one-in-four as a statistic is at the extreme end of the scale where both parents carry the cot-death gene, but it is possible. More likely are odds hugely less remote than one in 73 million. The cot death gene provides fresh evidence that speaks not to murder but to innocence. It turns the Sally Clark case inside out; what was black becomes white.
The implications for justice of Manchester University’s breakthrough don’t just stop with Sally Clark. That’s because Prof Sir Roy Meadow testified for the prosecution in many criminal trials and family courts. I asked paediatric pathologist Dr Ian Rushton what happens if Meadow’s Law is wrong. “Well if the theory is wrong, then obviously there would have to be a total rethink and presumably all the past cases would have to be reviewed.”Until now Meadow’s Law is a criminal theory, to which there has been no easy way out. “ From the jury’s point of view there are three things that happen. First of all, there is a mother in the dock; what is she doing there if she didn’t do anything wrong? Secondly, there are two dead babies; the mother cannot deny that. And thirdly there is a learned professor who says either these deaths were not natural or they are murder. Now that effectively shifts the burden of proof straight on to the mother. What I believe the jury’s common-sense reaction is, if she can prove that she did nothing to her babies we’ll let her off; if she can’t she must be guilty.”
How can a mother defend her innocence? “It is medically impossible, absolutely impossible, to prove that a baby has not been smothered. Think about that for a moment. You can never prove that a baby has not been smothered.”Sally Clark is not the only alleged killer-mum who was jailed with the help of evidence of Prof Sir Roy Meadow. Donna Anthony is also serving a double life sentence for murdering her two babies. She is in Durham Prison. She was convicted on forensic and character-witness evidence which again was contested. Donna Anthony, who had an appalling childhood, is no Sally Clark. She is not a solicitor and cut a desperately poor figure in the witness box. Roy Meadow told the jury that there was a one-in-a-million chance of the two babies dying naturally. He testified: “Natural cot death has an incidence now of about one-in-a-thousand. So the chance of natural cot death happening twice in a family is one-in-a-thousand times one-in-a-thousand which is one-in-a-million. It is extraordinarily unlikely, and of course neither of these two deaths fitted the criteria of what most experts would call cot death or sudden infant death syndrome.” The method Sir Roy used to arrive at one-in-a-million is the same as that used in the one-in-73 million number - the difference being that Donna Anthony was a working-class smoker. And that
method is just plain wrong. George Hawkes was Donna Anthony’s solicitor “I still worry about it now, and it’s nearly three years on. that there was not any direct evidence that she had done anything to her children; there was not a single mark on them and pathologists said they couldn’t find any cause of death, and five years before that, that would have been the end of the matter. It’s really only the advent of Prof Meadow coming in and being involved in a number of these cases that Donna Anthony seems to me to have been caught up in a snowball effect where - I don’t want to make light of it - it is almost becoming fashionable to prosecute in these particular situations. It’s a sort of gathering force.“ Five Live Report knows of a third case, but we can’t give any of the details. Prof Sir Roy Meadow’s evidence as well as other testimony led to the family losing all four children to care. Because of a family court gag on the media we cannot interview the parents. We know of many other cases as well.
Susie Sale has followed the Sally Clark case and others very closely, and now champions their cause. She believes that what happened to them happened to her. “I think about her quite often, actually, because I know that there but for the grace of God it could have been me in that situation, and I know how awful I felt losing those boys and what a terrible, terrible thing . . . it’s such a blight on your life; your life is never the same again.” What about this principle which is supposed to be in British justice of reasonable doubt? “I wish we could think they took that into account. There wasn’t any concrete evidence, I think, that says that she actually killed those children.” Because if the one in 73 million statistic is true - “then I killed my children and I know I haven’t. My husband knows I haven’t killed my children, my family, my relatives, the whole town where I live, know it. I know now there was nothing I could have done to prevent what happened. I didn’t miss an illness or whatever. So I’m at peace with myself but I think that if I was in another town, another part of the country, I could have been in that situation.”
For the friends of Sally Clark, the discovery of a cot death gene provides hope. John Batt [the solicitor who represented her before the solicitors’ tribunal]: “Genetics was never a factor at Sally’s trial. The discovery of a new gene in Manchester is entirely new, it is fresh evidence, and it is clearly at a very early stage in its development. I have no doubt that genetics will play a very large part in Sally’s application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.” Five Live Report has put a series of questions to Sir Roy Meadow about his theory, his one-in-73 million sound-bite and Meadow’s Law; he declined to take part in this programme. Had the jury known in the case of Sally Clark that instead of Sir Roy’s evidence that there was a one-in-73 million chance of her babies dying naturally it could conceivably have been one-in-four, would they have convicted her? “If it can happen to us, what chance has an ordinary couple in a council estate got? or a single mother in Brixton got?” If Meadow’s Law is fatally flawed then there has not been one miscarriage of justice but a great number, ruining the lives of dozens of people who have been in prison or had their babies taken from them for nothing more than having the wrong genes. Perhaps Home Secretary David Blunkett might consider this: That the law should approach grieving mothers with a new, crude aphorism: that, in the absence of compelling evidence of murder, one cot death is a tragedy, and two is a tragedy, and three is a tragedy.