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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Baby deaths mother found guilty
Angela Cannings at Winchester Crown Court
Angela Cannings went on trial in February
Wiltshire mother Angela Cannings has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of murdering two of her babies.

A jury of eight women and four men returned its verdict on both counts at Winchester Crown Court on Tuesday.

Cannings, 38, of Salisbury, had denied the charges and claimed both babies were victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

But the jury decided she had smothered seven-week-old Jason Cannings in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew Cannings in 1999.

'No threat'

Her first child, Gemma, died in 1989 at the age of 13 weeks but Cannings did not face charges in relation to her death.

Sentencing her, Mrs Justice Heather Hallett said: "I have no doubt that for a woman like you to suffocate these babies there must have been something seriously wrong with you.

"You wanted these babies and you cherished them, and it's no coincidence, in my view, that you committed these acts in the weeks after their births.

"It's not my decision to ask when you will be released but I intend to make it known in my remarks that in my own view you will never be a threat to anyone in the future."

'Exceedingly distressed'

Cannings broke down in tears as she was led away to the cells.

Speaking after the case, her solicitor Bill Bache said his client was considering an appeal, though he would not specify on what grounds.

He described her as being "exceedingly distressed - she cannot understand it".

Wiltshire Police said afterwards: "There are no winners in a case like this."

Sudden deaths

The deaths of Canning's three children were initially attributed to SIDS.

However, police suspicions were aroused by the death of Matthew in 1999, and more detailed medical tests using advanced techniques were carried out.

Cannings was charged in March 2000 with the murder of all three infants, but the charge in relation to Gemma's death was later dropped.

When the case came to court in February 2002, the jury was told of Gemma's death and asked to view it as a "backdrop" to the murder charges.

The court heard that both Jason and Matthew had suffered acute life threatening events exactly nine days before they died.

Both children made good recoveries in hospital, but then died suddenly.

The prosecution pointed to these events as evidence that Cannings, who was always alone in the house at the time, had made earlier attempts to kill her babies.

'Empty inside'

The court heard medical evidence from several doctors, including Professor Gem Berry.

He concluded that both deaths had features of "deliberate imposed upper airways obstruction", or smothering.

However, the defence claimed that it could not be proven that the babies had not died from medical causes as yet unidentified.

When Cannings took the witness box, she wept and said: "When we lost Gemma and we lost Jason, and also since we lost Matthew, each time I felt empty inside and wondered why it has all happened."

The most controversial of the defence theories to explain the deaths was that put forward by Cannings' barrister Michael Mansfield QC.

He said that land near the village of Winterbourne Gunner, where both Gemma and Jason died, could have been contaminated by the nearby nuclear, biological and chemical research centre at Portland Down.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Kay
"She had been portrayed by the defence as a devoted mother"
Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Symes
"Whole sad and harrowing case can only be described as a tragedy"
The NSPCC's Chris Cloak
"One to two children are killed each week by their parents or carers"

Click here to go to BBC Wiltshire
See also:

16 Apr 02 | Health
Controversy surrounds cot death
13 Mar 02 | England
Accused mother tells of grief
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