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Last Updated: Monday, 6 September, 2004, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Child death inquiries set for change
Sally and Stephen Clark
Sally Clark was cleared of murdering her two babies last year
An independent inquiry has recommended sweeping changes to the way sudden infant deaths are investigated.

The inquiry was set up after a number of cases in which women were wrongly convicted of murdering their babies.

The inquiry team, which was headed by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, published its recommendations on Monday.

It is calling for a tightening of the rules governing the use of expert witnesses, who should have to prove their competence.

It also says that specialists should work more closely together, and that parents should be more involved.

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The report also highlights a serious shortage in child paediatricians.

While the findings are not legally binding, many hope the government will back the recommendations.

The inquiry was set up by the royal colleges of pathologists and paediatrics in November 2003.

Cleared of murder

It followed the cases of solicitor Sally Clark and pharmacist Trupti Patel who were cleared of murdering their babies.

Sally Clark was cleared of murdering her two baby sons in January 2003 and was freed from jail by the Court of Appeal.

Many of the miscarriages of justice which have happened could have been prevented
Professor Alan Craft,
Royal College of Paediatrics
Trupti Patel was cleared of murdering her three babies by a jury at Reading Crown Court the following June.

The inquiry team was asked to come up with a national protocol for investigating sudden infant deaths.

They were asked to come up with recommendations to ensure these deaths are investigated properly while reducing the risks of future miscarriages of justice.

"Many of the miscarriages of justice which have happened could have been prevented if a proper investigation of the child's death had taken place at the appropriate time," said Professor Alan Craft of the Royal College of Paediatrics.

'Unsatisfactory investigations'

Joyce Epstein, director of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, said she hoped the inquiry would lead to significant changes.

"The way sudden infant death is investigated in this country is thoroughly unsatisfactory and FSID is looking forward to the Kennedy report being a catalyst for major change," she told BBC News Online.

But Rioch Edwards-Brown, of the Five Percenters support group, questioned what standard of change could be achieved in view of the non-legally binding nature of the findings.

Everything is going to require time, you really can't do this as a sound bite to please people, you need to go through a process
Five Percenters
"I think this protocol should have included 'live' babies - these are babies that come in with injuries that mimic those associated with abuse and, until they can be properly be determined, families are being accused," she told BBC One's Breakfast programme.

"From the ground and the doctors we're talking to, nothing will change."

Parent organisations and doctors working for both prosecution and defence had not been consulted, she claimed.

"Everything is going to require time, you really can't do this as a sound bite to please people, you need to go through a process," she said.

Around 600 babies die in England and Wales between one week of age and their first birthday.

That works out at around one baby in every 1,600 dying of cot death each year.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Karen Allen
"To turn things around will take some time"



SEE ALSO:
Review of children in care cases
23 Feb 04  |  Politics
The science behind cot deaths
11 Jun 03  |  Health


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