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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 18:29 GMT
Global experts slam cot death policy
Putting babies asleep on their back can reduce the risks of cot death
Britain's approach to investigating sudden infant deaths is unique, according to leading international experts.

They say authorities in other countries are much less likely to suspect foul play in cases where a baby dies suddenly.

They are less likely to accuse a parent of murder even where there have been multiple infant deaths in one family.

In addition, they never rely on medical statistics to secure a conviction.

Conviction quashed

On Monday, the Court of Appeal cleared Angela Cannings of murdering her two sons.

The judges said the medical evidence that helped convict the 40-year-old woman was unreliable.

Cases should be evaluated on an individual basis
Dr Joseph Milerad,
European Society for the Study and Prevention of Infant Death
The medical evidence they referred to was "Meadow's law", espoused by prosecution witness Sir Roy Meadow. He maintains that one cot death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder.

At one trial, he said the chances of two infants from one family dying from cot death was one in 73 million.

The UK government has now ordered a review of 258 cases where parents were convicted of killing their children in light of Monday's ruling.

Thousands of other parents who had a child taken away from them on the basis of similar evidence will also have their case re-examined.

However, experts in Europe and the United States believe Britain's approach to investigating sudden infant death is wrong.

Dr Joseph Milerad, a paediatrician in Sweden and vice-chairman of the European Society for the Study and Prevention of Infant Death, says other countries are much more willing to accept the there may be a medical reason for multiple infant deaths in a family.

"Multiple infant deaths are not necessarily treated with suspicion. There may be a medical explanation," he says.

"As a routine, I don't think you should have these very rigid guidelines that one infant death is medical and two infant deaths is murder.

"These cases should be evaluated on an individual basis."

Few cases

Dr Milerad said there had been very few cases of multiple infant deaths in single families in Sweden.

Where there had been multiple deaths, parents were only tried if they had a prior history of abusing their children.

It is completely wrong to approach these cases on a statistical basis
Dr Henry Krous,
Paediatric Pathologist, California
"There was a real suspicion of maltreatment of these children," he says.

A similar approach is taken by authorities in the United States.

Dr Henry Krous, a paediatric pathologist at San Diego Children's Hospital in California, said "Meadow's law" has few supporters in the US.

"It has been roundly criticised by the majority of people in this country," he told BBC News Online.

"From my own point of view, it is completely wrong to approach these cases on a statistical basis.

"I have worked in this area for over 30 years and I have not dealt with 73 million cases and yet I can think of more than three cases where there has been more than one death in a single family.

"An individual family with its own mix of genes is not comparable to another family."

Dr Krous said US authorities approached each case on a case by case basis.

"To my knowledge, no case has ever been prosecuted on the basis of statistical evidence."

Dr Krous said it was important for police to investigate suspicious infant deaths.

But he warned that they must keep on open mind and consider medical causes of death.

"A police investigation should be considered in the case of a singleton death and not just in the case of multiple deaths.

"But there must also be a recognition that there may be a medical reason for those deaths."

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The highest lawyers in the land are now reviewing potential cot death cases"

Baby death trials to be reviewed
19 Jan 04  |  Wiltshire
Baby death review welcomed
19 Jan 04  |  UK

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