Lucy Letby - innocent?

Far better article than New Yorker one, in fairness. Thanks for posting.

I continue to think ‘understaffing’ is far from an adequate criterion for explaining how 14 infants ended up dead or maimed.

But there it is. Bar a confession and/or clear DNA evidence of some sort, criminal cases are rarely 100% clear. Which is why there is the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ rubric.

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The “awkward squad” in grauniad are now asking questions

Im calling bolox on this anyway.

This article is not strictly connected to the Letby case, but at the same time deeply relevant.

Sweeney is one of the people who are questioning the Letby convictions.

Kathleen Folbigg who is mentioned in the article and at the time of writing was still in prison had her convictions overturned some months ago.

Child abuse is an evil thing but it’s always worse when the perpetrator is the state. Twenty-two years ago this month, Sally Clark was convicted of murdering her two baby boys, Christopher and Harry, and blaming it on cot death. She was sentenced to life in prison. There was a secret sentence, crueller even than that. The murder charge meant that in the family court, behind closed doors, she lost the right to be a mother to her surviving son, and that extra cruelty broke her. The British state committed child abuse by depriving her third boy of his mother for no good reason.

The question at the heart of Sally’s tragedy – and those of Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony – was not, “Who murdered this child?” but, “Was there a crime?”. And the truth was there had been no crime. In none of these cases was there any good evidence of child abuse, let alone child murder. There is a fourth case, that of Kathleen Folbigg, an Australian mother who lost four children. She is still in prison. These tragedies are examined in a major new series by Discovery +, released this weekend, on which I am interviewed.

Back in 1999 Professor Sir Roy Meadow was a kind of child abuse god, author of The ABC of Child Abuse and star witness for the crown. He advanced “Meadow’s Law”, that “unless proven otherwise, one cot death is tragic, two is suspicious and three is murder” and told the jury at Sally Clark’s trial that the chances of someone like Sally, a middle-class, non-smoking mother, having two cot deaths was “73 million to one”. This was an arrow that shot though Sally’s defence and one, it seemed at the time, for which there was no answer.

My interest in Sally’s case was all Martin Bell’s fault. Had my old journalist pal from Bosnia not stood for election in Tatton in 1997, he would not have made friends with the chaplain for the prison where Sally ended up. The Reverend Pauline Pullen pushed me up against a wall and jabbed me with her finger: “You’re the investigative reporter. Everybody in that prison, the cons, the screws, even the governor knows she’s innocent. Go on, Sweeney, do your job.”

I had recently left the Observer for BBC Radio 5 documentaries and luckily my producer, Bill Law, was already on the case. The more Bill and I dug, the more the evidence against Sally crumbled to dust.

The statistic “73 million-to-one” that Meadow used against Sally was, according to Peter Donnelly, professor of statistics at Oxford University, “just plain wrong”. The odds of a middle-class non-smoking mother having a cot death were 8,543-to-one. Sally lost two boys so 8,543 times 8,543 equals, roughly, “73 million-to-one”. It’s a schoolboy error to multiply odds in this way. By way of analogy, the moment a rank outsider wins the Grand National, the odds of it doing it again the following year drop massively. The true number the murder trial should have heard is that once you have suffered one cot death, the chances of a second are 60-1. The statistic Meadow gave the court was poisonously untrue.

Professor Sir Roy Meadow’s database was founded on court cases, not science.|445x266.94770857814336View image in fullscreen

Professor Sir Roy Meadow’s database was founded on court cases, not science. Photograph: Chris Young/PA

Meadow’s claims to be a scientist of standing fell apart when we learned that his database was not founded on laboratory science but on 81 court cases.that he had, in the words ofProfessor Jean Golding, “cherry-picked”. To save space, Meadow had shredded his research database so it was impossible to go through his workings. Jean Golding, professor of epidemiology at Bristol, compared his scientific rigour to “stamp-collecting” and said that he was not a reliable witness.

But it was Meadow’s Law that really took the biscuit. More boys than girls die from cot death which means that it is in some way genetic, though we don’t understand the exact mechanism. Our Radio 5 Live documentary on Sally Clark in 2001 ended like this: “Unless proven otherwise, one cot death is a tragedy and two cot deaths are a tragedy and three cot deaths are a tragedy.”

Mothers found guilty of killing their children are the lowest of the low in the British prison system. Word got back to us that, after our documentary was broadcast, the other prisoners were less cruel to Sally. Meanwhile Steve Clark, Sally’s husband, went through the mass of medical evidence not heard by the court. He found bacteria test results showing that baby Harry had Staphylococcus aureus in his spinal fluid, indicating he could have died from natural causes.

Angela Cannings suffered three cot deaths so, according to Meadow’s Law, she had to be a murderer. He gave evidence against her at her trial and she was duly convicted in 2002.

For BBC Real Story we investigated Angela’s family tree. The court had heard that there had been two cot deaths in Angela’s family but that was not thought to be a gamechanger. I had a hunch that there might be more in Angela’s Irish family. Assistant producer Sarah Mole went to the Dublin records office and discovered that Angela’s grandmother had had a cot death and her great-grandmother two.

After our programme went out Angela Cannings’s solicitor, the late Bill Bache called me. To my dying day I will remember the wonderment in his voice. “John, your programme…” “What is it, Bill?” He went on to explain that Angela’s half-sister, a woman Angela did not know existed, had got in touch to say that her two babies had both suffered life-threatening events. They were rushed to hospital and lived but the genetic pattern was crystal-clear.

Donna Anthony suffered two cot deaths and she, too, had been convicted on the evidence of Meadow. Once again, there was no credible evidence that she had committed any child abuse, let alone child murder.

In 2003 Meadow gave evidence against Trupti Patel, who had lost three babies and therefore, according to Meadow’s Law, was a murderer. But this time the jury got it, understanding that there is some kind of genetic factor at play, and she was cleared.

That same year, Sally Clark and then Angela Cannings were freed. Two years later, Donna Anthony was freed. George Hawks, her solicitor, explained: “She was convicted of the worst crime any mother can be convicted of – the murder of her own babies – but there was no direct evidence that she had done any such thing. She was condemned by theory based on suspicion which was masquerading as medical opinion, and it was completely wrong. The case against Donna was completely flawed and she is absolutely shattered about what has happened to her over the last seven years.”

The case was theory based on suspicion masquerading as medical opinion. And it was wrong’

George Hawks, solicitor

Meadow’s work was not done. In 2005 Angela and Ian Gay were found guilty of manslaughter, following the death of their adopted son, Christian. The prosecution built their case on Meadow’s 1993 paper “Non-accidental salt poisoning”. The trial judge cited Meadow’s paper five times during his summing up.

For Radio 4’s File on 4, I spoke to both Professor Golding and Professor Ashley Grossman who questioned the science behind Meadow’s paper. Once again, nature – in this case diabetes insipidus which can raise salt level to a lethal state – was to blame rather than deliberate salt poisoning by two people. They, too, were freed.

Meadow was struck off by the GMC. He appealed and won, with one judge dissenting, and to this day his supporters defend him. Discovery + approached him for a comment but he did not reply.

In 2004 Meadow’s ex-wife, Gillian Paterson, suggested that he was a misogynist. She said: “I don’t think he likes women… although I can’t go into details, I’m sure he has a serious problem with women.”

Poor Sally never got over her enforced separation from her surviving child. I was doing battle against the Church of Scientology in Florida in 2007 when the news broke that Sally had died. I had to apologise to two ex-members of the church I was interviewing and walked away and burst into tears.

I remain haunted by her case and the others, and the fact that in the 21st century a witch-hunt, powered by ignorance and prejudice, had the power to destroy wholly innocent women. I fear that the same thing is happening in Australia, that Kathleen Folbigg, too, is a victim of a monstrous injustice.

Sally Clarke is probably not the best example.