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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 22:27 GMT
Wider cot deaths review considered
Baby
Babies may have been wrongly taken from parents
Thousands of parents whose children were taken into care may have their cases re-opened as part of a wider review of cot death legal cases.

Solicitor General Harriet Harman told MPs a review of civil proceedings under family law - believed to number up to 5,000 cases - was being considered.

On Monday it was announced the cases of 258 parents convicted of killing their children would be studied.

Doubt has been cast on evidence given by expert witnesses who suggested the children did not die naturally.

COT DEATHS REVIEW
258 criminal cases identified
54 involve women in prison - top priority
Plus 15 cases awaiting trial - CPS to advise
Plus family cases to be identified

Ms Harman said: "In family cases, what's happening is there's a consideration how to go about a review.

"We will make sure that we recognise that not only injustices done in the criminal justice system but any potential injustices in care proceedings are identified and acted on.

"We bear in mind the absolute, utmost gravity and seriousness of those whose injustice is not in the hands of the criminal justice system but as a result of the family justice system."

Talking about the review as a whole, she told MPs it was a "serious, but not chaotic" situation and a fast-track process would deal with urgent criminal cases.

We had not been interviewed by him. We did not even know who he was
Mother whose daughter was taken into care after evidence by Sir Roy Meadow

She said Attorney General Lord Goldsmith would meet the chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission on Friday to discuss the review of infant death cases.

Cases involving people in prison and those which relied on expert evidence will be fast-tracked to appeal or to the review commission.

In a separate development, Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald QC said he would take personal charge of reviewing 15 cases which have yet to come to trial.

And Home Secretary David Blunkett welcomed the review as a chance to check "what the extent of the problem has been".

The Appeal Court sparked the process on Monday while giving the reasons for its decision last month to clear Wiltshire shop assistant Angela Cannings of murdering her two sons.

The judges said parents should not be prosecuted when it was possible their children had suffered cot death.

A total of 258 parents convicted of killing a child under two years old will have their cases studied.

Death theory

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, who announced the review, answered questions about it in the Lords on Tuesday.

It is estimated about 5,000 children have been taken from their parents in the past 15 years on the suspicion that an infant has been smothered.

Some of these children were taken as a result of a controversial theory by paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow, which has been questioned by recent criminal cases.

There are some expert witnesses who when they stand up in court bring with them a very strong persuasive element to their evidence
Dr Chris Pamplin
UK Register of Expert Witnesses

His theory of Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy is that some mothers harm their children to draw attention to themselves.

But in three separate appeal cases last year that involved his evidence, mothers were acquitted of murdering their children and released from prison.

Another parent, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme her daughter was taken from her at birth because she was suspected of smothering her first baby son.

She called for a review of her case so that her daughter, now aged four, could be returned to her because she was "moved unnecessarily".

Graham Zellick, chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, told Today convictions which had relied solely on disputed medical evidence would be deemed unsafe.

But he said he had no idea how many cases fell into that category.

Dr Chris Pamplin, the editor of the UK Register of Expert Witnesses, said some expert witnesses were adept at persuading a court about the strength of their evidence.

What is your view on this story? Have you been affected by cot death? Add your comments using the form below:


Your comments:

Our third child died in 1984 of SIDS (cot death) - we were in a state of total shock immediately after our tragedy and even so many years on we still on a daily basis think and to some extent relive that evening. We were interviewed/interrogated by the Lincolnshire Police immediately after the death and were very unhappy with the atmosphere of that interview. I subsequently wrote to the Superintendent and we were later informed that they would change their methods and mode of operation for the future. It is important to listen to the thousands of parents/siblings who have suffered 'cot death' to allow for a sensible consideration of the correct procedures to employ for those who sadly will need to face this situation.
George C. Walker, Kirkland Wa. USA

The 54 women in prison must be given the benefit of the doubt, unless the evidence is overwhelmingly against them. Women who kill their children are few and far between, but those that do exist should be helped, not imprisoned. Sir Roy Meadow should have his knighthood stripped. He is a disgrace to his profession. He's a clear case of arrogance within the medical profession. He should make a public apology to those he has wronged.
Annabel Schweinsberg, Bucks, UK

My son died aged five and a half weeks from SIDS. In the twenty years since he died there have been many studies into the causes of SIDS which, as a bereaved parent, served only to compound the guilt and "what if" syndrome endured by ALL bereaved parents, whatever the cause of death. Losing a child to SIDS creates a fear forever of being with a child under the age of two years - without the additional fear that Roy Meadow and his ilk have engendered.

I accept that some mothers may be responsible for the death of infants in their care but the law makes provision for this. It is called infanticide. Everybody involved in these shameful events should be investigated as hard as the parents whose lives they made a misery and if found "guilty", they too should be banned from ever being involved in the care or investigation of children. The arrogance of people like Meadow is breathtaking - the death rate of children under the age of 18 is a straight line, despite all the advances in medical science.
ER, London UK

I think it is so ironic that some babies may have died of SIDS because for years so-called experts were telling women to put their babies to sleep on their tummies, whilst other so-called experts caused further misery by accusing women of murdering their children. God protect us from experts!
JoŽlle HIVONNET, New York, US

I find it frightening that so many innocent parents could have been jailed, particularly at such a difficult time in their lives. It almost makes me think twice about having children of my own. The whole justice system surrounding these cases seems to be completely infallible, along with Sir Roy Meadows' so called statistics.
Roz, UK

Don't be so quick to assume that all these cases are miscarriages of justice
Jane Green, Birmingham
I can't believe that this is happening, and that so many people are supporting it. Bob Geldorf says that women today are seen as 'administering angels', which leads to the view that mothers are incapable of harming or killing their children - this simply isn't true. Who is going to protect the children who are at risk, if all parents of babies who die in the home are automatically assumed to be innocent? No-one whose opinion is listed here knows these people or what they are capable of. Someone has to be prepared to stand up and say 'this woman shouldn't be left alone with an infant, even her own' if the child could be at risk. Don't be so quick to assume that all these cases are miscarriages of justice.
Jane Green, Birmingham

It is time that Family Court proceed dings had the veil of secrecy removed. If things were open and transparent then people in general would have faith in the system. While ever their remains secrecy it allows people like Meadows to operate within their own tormented and twisted little empire. I have no doubt that people of his ilk, the so called "expert witnesses" count their personal success by the scalps they have taken. Unfortunately those scalps are children's lives and broken families.
Stewart Dunbar, Leeds Yorkshire

I have followed the recent events of Sir Roy Meadows and I am appalled at his findings, someone must be accountable for his actions, as a father of a little boy aged 13 months, I always watch his sleeping habits ..., strangely enough, I live as an ex-pat in Macedonia, and nobody has every heard of (SIDS) in this region, which I am astonished!
Bernie, Skopje, Macedonia

I've just had a new Baby myself, and my constant fear is SIDS (cot death), and I have no idea what it would really be like to go through such an ordeal, but it makes me sick to just think of it. But just imagine for moment it did and then not only do you lose the most important part of your life, not only do you not know how to go on living a normal life, but to then be accused and put in jail/prison for it, must be beyond doubt, horrific in the extreme! Serious consideration, perhaps even special boards or specially trained jurors need to be created to deal with this cases, and not some high flung theory by some Doctor who has never had to personally with this people.
Luke, Venice, FL

When Judges and so called expert witnesses get together, God help Justice.
Frank Whittaker, Macclesfield, Cheshire

I don't think anyone should be made to suffer further in such tragic circumstances, particularly when medical science can't prove guilt
Jennifer Hill, Midlands
My baby sister died of cot death and I know the pain and grief my family went through for years afterwards. To make parents suffer further by accusing them of killing their baby is a horror I cannot imagine. We suffered enough, I don't think anyone should be made to suffer further in such tragic circumstances, particularly when medical science can't prove guilt.
Jennifer Hill, Midlands

I cried with relief when I read that Sir Roy Meadows cases were to be reviewed. I have followed his story with growing outrage and disbelief. How can it be that a woman's baby could be removed at birth on such flimsy evidence? I can't imagine what she must have suffered having lost her first baby to cot death already. The view that it is not "in the best interest of the children" to reunite them with their families if it is found that they have been legally kidnapped is deeply short sighted. Obviously it would have to be handled with extreme sensitivity but two wrongs have never made a right. Give these families the justice they have been denied for so long.
Bianca Rowan, London UK

My baby daughter died from SIDS at two months and four days. I was fortunate in that there was no one who suspected me - this happened forty years ago but it still hurts. I don't know what the doctors in the UK think when they assume that this sort of death is a criminal act.
Liselot Troller, Vancouver, Canada

I believe that parents should be listened to, not so called expert witnesses. More background information on family illnesses should be carried out, if it had then maybe the mothers would not have been sent to prison. I hope the first case that is heard is that of the lady who had her baby daughter taken away at birth because the authorities thought she had smothered her first baby.

As a mother of six months old twins, cot death runs through my mind every second of the day. When my babies are sleeping I am constantly checking to see that they are still breathing, but if the worst did happen (god forbid) how would I prove it. The current justice system can not be trusted. This country has gotten into a terrible habit of letting REAL offenders off the hook and prosecuting the innocent. It's time this changed.
Mrs Nicola Lewis, Swindon, Wiltshire

These cases show there is a serious flaw in the so called expert witnesses. Women who had had their children taken away must be suffering. Not all women accused are innocent but a great majority are. How can you they prove cot-deaths when nobody knows what cause them? What about these adult sudden death syndrome, surely this is the same thing?
E Reade, Cardiff, South Glamorgan

I have followed the extraordinary story of Professor Sir Roy Meadow for some time and I'm delighted that the parents whose lives he has ruined will at last get some justice, though the misery they have suffered and the years they have lost can never be compensated.
Ken, London

Surely by now the doctors can tell the difference between natural causes and murder
Lorraine Howarth, Manchester, UK
Maybe if it happened to them they might understand how people feel. It's bad enough having to lose someone who you carried around for 9 months then went thought the pain of labour but to be found guilty of murdering them is unbelievable. Let the parents greave for their baby. Surely by now the doctors can tell the difference between natural causes and murder. I thought we have progressed with medicine from the programme I watched the other week, the doctors still don't have a clue.
Lorraine Howarth, Manchester, UK

Parents with children who have ME/CFS have also been subjected to these accusations of Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. Some children have had care proceedings taken out against them. They have been made wards of court, removed from their families, subjected to inappropriate treatment and management regimes which have damaged them further, physically and emotionally. Families have no option but to remain silent if served with an injunction. These cases too need to be reviewed.
Barbara Robinson, Ipswich, Suffolk

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WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Hundreds of criminal convictions are in doubt"



SEE ALSO:
Baby death trials to be reviewed
19 Jan 04  |  Wiltshire
Baby death review welcomed
19 Jan 04  |  UK
Cot death evidence review call
11 Dec 03  |  Wiltshire
The science behind cot deaths
10 Dec 03  |  Health


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