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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 15:33 GMT
Baby death trials to be reviewed
Angela Cannings
Angela Cannings: "We are just glad it's all over."
All criminal cases involving cot death over the past 10 years are to be reviewed urgently, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has announced.

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

If they relied on expert evidence they will be fast-tracked to an appeal.

The move comes after the Court of Appeal called for an end to prosecuting parents when there is a possibility of cot death.

High priority

Lord Justice Judge, giving the court's reasons on Monday for its decision last month to clear Angela Cannings of murdering her two sons, said medical science was "still at the frontiers of knowledge" about unexplained infant deaths.

Mrs Cannings, 40, was convicted by a Winchester Crown Court jury in April 2002 of smothering seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999.

A mother, already brutally scarred by the unexplained deaths of her babies, may find herself in prison for killing them
Lord Justice Judge

Lord Goldsmith said of the 258 convictions, 54 defendants were still in prison.

"These will be accorded the highest priority."

Lord Goldsmith said he would meet the chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission soon to discuss the review.

The commission said: "Such cases are likely to involve a number of causes of death and a variable level of expert involvement and it will be important to identify those where expert witnesses were crucial to securing the conviction," the commission said.

The Crown Prosecution Service had also been asked by Lord Goldsmith to review 15 ongoing cases involving an unexplained infant death.

After the judge's ruling, Mrs Cannings said: "We are just glad it's all over and we can be reunited as a family."

Sally Clark with her husband Geoff

She also advised other families similarly accused: "Hang in there - wait and hope and it will come right one day."

The Cannings' case followed a decision earlier last year to overturn solicitor Sally Clarke's conviction of murdering her two young sons, and the acquittal of pharmacist Trupti Patel on charges of murdering her three babies.

Ms Clarke's father Frank Lockyer said the Court of Appeal's comments were a "huge step forward".

Speaking on behalf of his daughter, he said: "For a long time, now we've been saying the criminal court is not the place to find out how a baby has died."

The judges said Mrs Cannings' case had broad implications for other cases involving parents accused of harming their children.

Lord Justice Judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Pitchers, said: "If the outcome of the trial depends exclusively, or almost exclusively, on a serious disagreement between distinguished and reputable experts, it will often be unwise, and therefore unsafe, to proceed."

Brutally scarred

He said that "justice may not be done in a small number of cases" where the mother has deliberately killed her baby without leaving any evidence.

He added: "Unless we are sure of guilt, the dreadful possibility always remains that a mother, already brutally scarred by the unexplained deaths of her babies, may find herself in prison for life for killing them when she should not be there at all."

Mrs Cannings always claimed Jason and Matthew - and their sister, Gemma, who died at the age of 13 weeks in 1989 - had been the victims of sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death.

The judges said they had been presented with "significant and persuasive fresh evidence" which had not been brought at the original trial, and which offered a possible explanation for the boys' deaths.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Similar criminal cases will now be fast-tracked to appeal"



SEE ALSO:
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
Mother cleared of killing sons
10 Dec 03  |  Wiltshire
Babies 'had higher cot death risk'
09 Dec 03  |  Wiltshire


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