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Last Updated: Monday, 6 September, 2004, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Child death reforms welcomed
Trupti Patel (right) and her husband
Trupti Patel was wrongly accused of killing her three babies
Medical experts have welcomed proposed changes to the way investigations into sudden infant deaths are handled.

An independent inquiry has produced a report which proposes a major re-think of the way such cases are scrutinised.

Angela Cannings, who was wrongly accused of killing her two baby sons, cautiously welcomed the proposals.

The report follows high profile trials of mothers such as Sally Clark who were accused of killing their babies but later cleared.

The Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health drew up the guidelines in response to such cases.

They set up the inquiry in November 2003.

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

Mrs Cannings, who was released from prison last year, said she hoped authorities would take notice of the proposals.

"What we have been through, what Trupti Patel has been through, what Sally Clark has been through, all those families have been through this trauma. It just cannot happen any more," she said.

From the ground and the doctors we're talking to, nothing will change
Rioch Edwards-Brown, of the Five Percenters support group

Professor James Underwood, the president of the Royal College of Pathologists, suggested that time is needed to change current practices.

He said: "Urgent action is needed so that the investigation protocol can be implemented nationally.

"This requires time and resources to recruit and train specialist doctors and other personnel who have the competence and expertise to investigate these tragic deaths.

The protocol stresses that all those investigating a sudden infant death should keep an open mind about what has happened and why.

Head of the inquiry team, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, said: "The presumed truth is that nothing wrong has taken place.

"You want to ensure that the language of suspicion is not used."

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

But not everyone shares this sense of optimism.

Angela Cannings and her husband Terry
Angela Cannings hopes the recommendations bring changes

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

"From the ground and the doctors we're talking to, nothing will change," she told BBC One's Breakfast programme.

A key recommendation is for all post-mortem examinations in unexplained baby deaths to be carried out by a paediatric pathologist or a pathologist with training in child medicine, alongside a forensic pathologist.

The report highlighted a shortage of skilled doctors in this area and called for recruitment and training to double the current number in the next one to two years.

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

Crucially, the report also calls for tougher rules on expert witnesses.

Miscarriages of justice

It said that judges should establish the expertise of witnesses to make sure they are not pushing a theory with an insufficient scientific base.

Rather than making decisions based on medical belief, it said experts should be willing to say "I don't know" without shame or inhibition when the evidence was not clear.

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.

Trupti Patel was cleared of murdering her three babies by a jury at Reading Crown Court the following June.

"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.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Karen Allen
"The guidelines call for standardised procedures for investigating sudden infant deaths"



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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