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Sunday, 15 July, 2001, 02:58 GMT 03:58 UK
Doubt cast on baby killer case
Sally Clark
Sally Clark has always protested her innocence
Evidence used at the trial of a solicitor found guilty of murdering her two baby sons has been called into question in a BBC investigation.

Sally Clark was given two life sentences in November 1999 for the murder of 11-week-old Christopher in 1996 and eight-week-old Harry in 1998.

She always maintained both were victims of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) - commonly known as cot death - but the jury decided she had smothered them.

Supporters of Clark say that the solicitor's conviction was "assisted" by a doctor's testimony which said the odds of boys both dying naturally were "one in 73 million".

The BBC Five Live Report broadcast on Sunday said the discovery of a "cot death gene" had cast doubt on the safety of the conviction and that of other mothers convicted of infanticide.

The programme - the result of a joint investigation by the BBC and The Observer newspaper - comes as Clark says she will launch a fresh appeal against her conviction.

'Miscarriage of justice'

The policeman's daughter from Wilmslow in Cheshire is currently serving a double life sentence in Bulwood Hall prison, but supporters strongly believe there was a miscarriage of justice.

During the trial at Chester Crown Court, Professor Sir Roy Meadow told the jury that there was only "one in a 73 million chance" of Clark having two cot deaths.

Elements of Dr Meadow's testimony have also been used at the trials of other mothers accused of murdering their babies - like Donna Anthony currently serving life in Durham Prison.

The babies were found dead in Clark's Cheshire home

But some in the medical world have questioned the theory of Dr Meadow, who declined to be interviewed for the BBC programme.

To help calculate his theory, Dr Meadow had looked at the odds of a middle class couple such as the Clarks having a cot death when compared to say a single parent smoker.

Peter Donnelly, professor of statistical science at Oxford University, questions whether Dr Meadows was right to multiply the risk factors of the same couple having two cot deaths.

'Medical speculation'

Dr Donnelly said it would need to be proved that the two deaths were wholly unconnected, which he says Mr Meadow did not attempt to do at Clark's trial.

"If it hasn't been established, it is at best speculation and depending on the circumstances of the case possibly extremely misleading.

Last October the Court of Appeal turned down Clark's appeal to clear her name.

The pain and the sense of loss were enormous and we struggled to make sense of it all

Sally Clark
But her supporters were given fresh hope in February when scientists identified a "cot death gene" which would account for families suffering more than one incidence of Sids.

Clark's defence team said on Sunday it was now preparing a fresh case.

Solicitor and family friend John Batt said he was "very encouraged" by the discovery of the new gene but added it was "early days".

He said it would count as fresh evidence to be presented to the Criminal Cases Review Commission who can then refer the case back to the Court of Appeal.

Mother's despair

Experts at Manchester University found that babies who died from cot death could have produced certain toxins, which could be explained by a genetic link.

Brian Lowry, emeritus professor of medical genetics and paediatrics, University of Canada disputes Meadow's theory and believes such a gene would dramatically alter the odds.

"It's absolutely fact Sally Clark's second chance might have been as high as (one in) four."

During her video-taped appeal Clark said she felt "utter despair and anguish" after the children died.

"The pain and the sense of loss were enormous and we struggled to make sense of it all," she said.

"I felt let down by a justice system that I had always believed in and always worked hard to uphold."

She told how a third son, who is nearly two-and-a-half, was now the "light of my life" together with her husband, Stephen.

The BBC's John Sweeney
"BBC investigation casts serious doubt on Sally Clark's prosecution"
See also:

16 Feb 01 | Health
Cot death gene claim
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