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Angela Cannings

Two years

Expert Professor Sir Roy Meadow struck off medical register by BMC - BBC News 15 July 2005

Angela Cannings denied compensation by tightwad Home Office -
news reports January 2005

Guardian Unlimited
11 December 2004
Appeal court clears mother
of killing her two babies

Fresh evidence pointed to genetic cause of deaths

By Matthew Taylor

Angela Cannings walked free from the appeal court in London yesterday saying it was the end of a four-year nightmare. The 40-year-old had served 20 months of a life sentence after being found guilty of smothering two of her babies - seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999.

Mrs Cannings, a shop assistant from Wiltshire, always insisted that her sons were victims of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) which had killed her first child, Gemma, at the age of 13 weeks in 1989.

As the verdict was announced Mrs Cannings put her hands to her face and there were loud cheers and shouts of "Yes" from the public gallery.

Speaking outside the court, with her husband Terry by her side, a tearful Mrs Cannings said she could not wait to get home to be with her seven-year-old daughter.

"After having previously lost our precious Gemma and Jason we thought we had been through enough heartache," said Mrs Cannings. "Then there was a police investigation, a trial and a conviction. Finally today, justice has been done and my innocence has been proven."

Mrs Cannings, who paid tribute to her legal team and supporters, said there were two "special people" in her life who had kept her going in prison.

"My husband Terry who has stood by me and always believed in my innocence - he is my soulmate. And our very precious daughter who over the last four years has been our inspiration to carry on. I would like now to go home with Terry and for me especially to be mummy to our very precious daughter."

Mrs Cannings' appeal followed a decision earlier this year to overturn the conviction of Sally Clark, a solicitor, for murdering her two young sons, and the acquittal of Trupti Patel, a pharmacist, over the murder of her three babies.

Evidence from one prosecution expert, the paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow, was a key factor in each case.

Judges who overturned Mrs Clark's conviction on appeal said Prof Meadow's evidence was "manifestly wrong" and "grossly misleading". In Mrs Cannings' case the court was told again that his evidence was misleading and in future his testimony would need a "health warning" attached to it.

During Mrs Cannings' appeal, Lord Justice Judge, Mrs Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Pitchers heard fresh evidence from a geneticist, Professor Michael Patton, that an undiscovered genetic disorder could have been responsible for the deaths of Jason and Matthew. He revealed that Mrs Cannings' great-grandmother and grandmother had both lost babies in unexplained circumstances and the daughter of a half-sister had suffered an "acute life-threatening event".

Prof Patton said the new evidence - combined with details revealed in the original trial - "strongly supported a genetic case for the infant deaths".

The court also heard from a medical statistics expert, Professor Robert Carpenter, that smoking in the family, allergies and which position babies slept in could have put them at "substantially increased risk" of dying from cot death.

Lord Justice Judge said that one of the problems in dealing with infant deaths was that it was concerned with matters "at the cutting edge" of medical knowledge.

He said advising parents that children should sleep on their backs to reduce the risks of sudden death - which had seemed successful - may in fact make no difference, according to the latest research.

"We see this as an absolutely classic example of how research in this field is constant and the door never seems to be closed to new views on what may or may not cause cot death."

The judge said the appeal had raised a number of issues of general public interest in relation to infant deaths.

"We shall therefore take time to reflect on the terms of our judgment," he said. "But the appeal is more directly concerned with the convictions of Mrs Cannings. We have reached a clear conclusion, and we don't need to reflect on that.

"These convictions are unsafe and accordingly they will be quashed and Mrs Cannings will be discharged."

A Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman said it was in the public interest to bring the prosecution and insisted the original trial had been fair.

But Mrs Cannings' solicitor, Bill Bache, said his client believed the case should never have come before the courts.

"They are extraordinarily difficult matters," he said. "Still nobody knows what causes cot death, and until a good deal more information is known about that, it would seem to me that prosecutions of the kind that have been brought against her and, for that matter others, should not continue."

He said that the scientific evidence given against Mrs Cannings was "wholly inconclusive". He said: "That is the nub of the issue... it's impossible to reach any firm conclusion whether in any particular case there may have been murder or whether it was natural causes."


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