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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
'Tide turned' on cot death cases
Trupti Patel and her husband
Trupti Patel's case highlights the need for change, says the NSPCC
The "tide has turned" in the approach of medical and legal authorities to multiple cot deaths in one family, a witness in the Trupti Patel case has said.

Geneticist Professor Michael Patton believes medical advances may also help prove whether a mother is responsible for her child's death.

He was speaking the day after Mrs Patel was cleared of murdering three of her own babies at Reading Crown Court on Wednesday.

It took the jury of 10 men and one woman just an hour and a half to return the not guilty verdicts, after a trial which lasted nearly six and a half weeks.

The children's charity NSPCC is also pressing for an overhaul of the way child deaths are investigated in the wake of the case.

Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast programme, Professor Patton, who gave evidence for the defence, said: "I had always been rather suspicious of this rule of three: that one death is natural, two suspicious, three must be murder.

"We're learning an awful lot about genes. There are going to be genes that control the heartbeat control, the breathing apparatus and the drive of the brain to breathe.

"There are going to be gene discoveries in this area that give us clues to the future in some of the causes of these sudden deaths.

When a child dies in these circumstances we should be storing genetic material, DNA, so we can actually look for genes we may discover in the future
Professor Michael Patton
"The tide has turned and we will look at this much more critically."

Professor Patton played a key role in putting forward a genetic explanation for the deaths of the three infants.

He delved into the background of Mrs Patel's grandmother's family and found five out of twelve children who had died straight after birth.

The geneticist argued that processes should now be put in place so that authorities investigating cases such as Mrs Patel's are able to look into genetic backgrounds.

"When a child dies in these circumstances we should be storing genetic material, DNA, so we can actually look for genes we may discover in the future," he said.

The father of Sally Clark, the solicitor wrongly jailed after the deaths of two of her children, has called for an end to the "systematic prosecution" of mothers who lose children this way.

Frank Lockyer said: "What has virtually become systematic prosecution of mothers for murder following two or more unexplained deaths has got to be looked at.

Hopefully this tide has now turned and there will be no more false accusations against grieving mothers
Sue Stapely, Sally Clarke's solicitor

"It cannot be right that the absence of explanation is itself a sign of guilt.

"The Director of Public Prosecutions, the Royal College of Physicians and the Home Office Forensic Science Service must review procedures urgently."

Mrs Clark's solicitor, who helped her client walk free in January, said the courts were no place to investigate sudden child deaths.

Sue Stapely said: "Hopefully this tide has now turned and there will be no more false accusations against grieving mothers in tragic cases like this.

"We believe the courts are an entirely inappropriate place in which to investigate these mothers."

'Systematic review'

The NSPCC has called for all future post-mortem examinations on children to be performed by a paediatric pathologist or a pathologist with specialist paediatric experience.

The charity's Chris Cloke said: "The NSPCC wants to see systematic review and analysis of all child deaths by teams made up of health experts, police and social service professionals."

Meanwhile, the director of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths criticised an "eagerness" to treat sudden baby deaths as murder.

Joyce Epstein said: "Unfortunately, there is a current eagerness by some to view all sudden and unexpected deaths with suspicion, particularly where there is a second death in the family.

"This is very hurtful to the thousands of innocent bereaved families."

Sudden death

About 600 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly in England and Wales each year, most of them in the first week of life.

In half of cases the cause is not found at a post-mortem exam and sudden infant death syndrome is given as the reason for death.

Mrs Patel, 35, from Maidenhead, was cleared on Wednesday of suffocating her two sons and a daughter, who each died aged less than three months.

She hugged her husband and told reporters: "Words can't describe how we've been feeling. It should never have come to court."

It was also revealed that Mrs Patel was originally charged with attempting to murder her surviving child.

That charge was dropped before the case began and a not guilty verdict was entered before the start of the trial.

All three of Mrs Patel's children collapsed suddenly at the family home in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in separate incidents between 1997 and 2001.

The BBC's George Eykyn
"Trupti Patel left court a free woman"

Patel case raises questions
11 Jun 03  |  England
Mother cleared of killing babies
11 Jun 03  |  Berkshire
The science behind cot deaths
11 Jun 03  |  Health
'My year in torment'
11 Jun 03  |  Berkshire
Police defend baby death case
11 Jun 03  |  England

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