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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 December, 2003, 19:05 GMT
Baby murder witness 'irrelevant'
Angela Cannings
Angela Cannings was jailed in April 2002
Lawyers for a mother jailed for life for murdering her two baby sons have told the Court of Appeal the testimony of an expert at her trial was "misleading and irrelevant".

Angela Cannings, 40, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, was found guilty in 2002 of killing seven-week-old Jason and Matthew, aged four months. She has always maintained the boys died of sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death.

On Thursday her lawyers told the Court of Appeal that the expert evidence of Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who claimed a third death in the family was a "very unusual, very rare" event, was misleading.

Michael Mansfield QC argued that, if the trial were to take place now, "it is unlikely the Crown would call Professor Meadow as a witness, or, if they did, it would have to be done with a health warning attached to it".

Unsafe conviction

He recalled that, in the appeal by Sally Clarke, when she was cleared of murdering her two young sons, the Court of Appeal had made strong observations about Professor Meadow's evidence.

Lord Justice Judge agreed and said: "The court was extremely critical of a whole series of false steps leading to conclusions of a statistical kind that were misleading."

At the beginning of what is expected to be a five-day hearing, Mr Mansfield claimed Cannings' conviction was unsafe, and did not make sense in the face of a mass of evidence suggesting the deaths could have been due to sudden infant death syndrome.

He told the judges the jury that convicted Cannings of the murders must have come to the extraordinary conclusion that she was "giving birth in order to kill".

Angela Cannings and her husband Terry
Terry Cannings has supported his wife throughout

He said that to suggest she went on having babies over a period of 10 years, knowing she might be overcome by an urge to kill the children like a character in a Greek tragedy, "beggars belief".

The court heard there was no evidence Cannings was mentally unstable, and witnesses including family, work colleagues, neighbours, her local priest, doctors and health visitors had described her as a supportive, loving, caring mother.

During the hearing Cannings' legal team plans to show that the deaths of Jason, in 1991, and Matthew, in 1999, were caused by a genetic defect.

New evidence

They will offer new evidence showing three of Cannings' relatives died in early infancy, probably from cot death, and explain that another family member has recently revealed two of her babies suddenly collapsed and almost died.

Doubts about the safety of convictions in cases like Cannings' have grown since solicitor Sally Clark was cleared on appeal.

Cannings' first child, a daughter, died when she was three-months-old from sudden infant death syndrome, and she maintains the condition also claimed the lives of her two sons.

Cannings, who is serving her sentence at Bulwood Prison in Essex, and her husband Terry and members of her family were in court to hear the arguments in support of her appeal.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The court was told nothing in her background suggested she was a killer"

Doubts cast over baby deaths case
02 Nov 03  |  Real Story
Mother cleared of killing babies
11 Jun 03  |  Berkshire

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