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Thursday, July 9, 1998 Published at 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK

Woodward defaults on civil trial

Miss Woodward maintains her innocence

Louise Woodward has failed to respond to a US civil lawsuit filed against her by the parents of the baby she was convicted of killing.

Under federal court rules, the ex-au pair had 20 days to respond to the 16 June lawsuit seeking damages for the wrongful death of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen.

Fredric Ellis, lawyer for the parents Deborah and Sunil Eappen, said by failing to respond by the Tuesday deadline Miss Woodward had in legal terms essentially admitted responsibility and liability for Matthew's death.

But the solicitor of the Woodward trust fund, Paul Barrow, said: "That's rubbish. What has happened is that Louise has been faced with a claim for a large amount of damages.

"She has no alternative but to submit to a default judgement because she hasn't got the money to fund her case.

"The Eappens seem to have their own agenda. I can only assume that if they recognise that she has no assets their motivation must be political."

Woodward's lawyer Peter Quinn said: "Quite simply, she is not in a financial position to defend the action in America. It's not an admission of guilt. She maintains her innocence."

Judgement is 'unenforceable'

Andrew Miller, the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port who has supported the family throughout the case, said: "A judgement may be made against her but it's unenforceable. She's not in the US and she's not under their jurisdiction.

"It is a political attempt to force her into a position she could not be party to."

The Eappens are seeking £45,000 in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages from their former au pair, who returned to the UK last month after the Massachusetts Supreme Court let a 279-day sentence for manslaughter stand.

Mr Ellis has asked that the hearing still be held on 5 October, when the judge will decide whether 20-year-old Miss Woodward must pay damages.

The lawsuit also is trying to stop Miss Woodward profiting from the sale of her story.

Mr Ellis said: "We hope for a substantial verdict that will be effective in preventing her from profiting."

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