Criminal Law – A Miscarriage of Justice

The case of Sally Clark is a long and difficult one to understand. There are no precedents in this area of law and no books have been published regarding this case, as it has not yet been recognised by the courts. This is a landmark case and Sally Clark is not the only innocently convicted woman awaiting justice. Donna Anthony was convicted on Meadows Law and is in Durham prison. Maxine Robinson was given two life sentences at Sheffield Crown Court. The definition of a miscarriage of justice is a clear one, a failure to attain the desired end result of 'justice', and it can most definitely be applied in Sally's case.

In order to understand how this case was tried and how the verdict of guilty was reached, the following questions have to be defined. What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Hereafter SIDS)? What is 'The Prosecutors Fallacy'? What is Meadows Law? Within this essay I will address these issues and attempt to establish the true statistics involved in SIDS, state the most likely causes of death for the Clark babies, establish what the prosecution said in order for the jury be suspicious of Sally and try to deduce how important to the jury the flawed statistics used by the expert witnesses were.

Two expert witnesses who the media widely reported at the time of Sally's trial were; Sir Roy Meadows and Dr Alan Williams, who were called to speak about SIDS. SIDS is the term given when an infant dies and when no adequate explanation can be found to explain the death. It is sometimes referred to as cot death, as many babies are found, having been put to bed in a perfectly healthy state, dead in their cots. Meadows and Williams are both believers in the new theory of forensics that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome does not exist.

1 They think that the term should be 'Inexplicable' death (in other words, possible murder). Williams was the man who raised the alarm about Sally Clark. During the Court of Appeal hearing, crucial aspects of evidence were given by him. These were in direct conflict with the views of other experts. The prosecutions medical evidence changed completely between committal and trial, prompting one paediatrician to say in court that he had never previously been involved in a case where so many of the Prosecution's medical findings crumbled to dust.

Dr Williams should not have been relied upon because he is not a paediatric pathologist and the prosecution have admitted that fundamental errors were made by him in the post-mortem examinations. 2In addition to this Dr Williams was found to have made crucial mistakes in another case. Roy Meadows is a knighted professor and it is agreed by all that3 he is a superb performer in the witness box. He has recently admitted however that the crucial evidence given by him on whether one of the babies had been smothered was based on data that his secretary had accidentally shredded.

In his book 'The ABC of Child Abuse', Meadow writes, "One sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder until proved otherwise. It is a crude aphorism but a sensible working rule for anyone encountering these tragedies". This is what is now referred to as Meadow's Law and because of the apparent acceptability of this statement; the burden of proof has imperceptibly shifted in cases where more than one baby dies in the same family for no clear reason.

Meadows Law is a criminal theory to which there is no easy way out. From the juries point of view, 1st there's a mother in the dock. What's she doing there if she hasn't done anything wrong? 2nd there are two dead babies. 3rd there is a learned professor who says either these deaths are not natural or they are murder. This shifts the burden of proof straight onto the mother. The juries' reaction is 'if she can prove that she did nothing to her babies we'll let her off'. She can't so she must be guilty.

During the initial trial, there were nine days of very complex and conflicting medical evidence for the jury to digest, some of which Stephen Clark, an experienced lawyer, struggled to understand. In the middle of this medical confusion, within a few moments of discussing SIDS, Roy Meadow told the court that the chances of this happening is Sally's case was 1 in 73 million, it could only happen once in a century. This statistic, unlike all the other complicated medical evidence was easy to understand. It was terribly wrong and it sealed Sally's fate.

It was a statistical smoking gun, and in one sound-bite the jury had a compelling case against Sally Clark. The defence chose not to use an expert statistician to challenge Meadows figure. This decision cost Sally her freedom. The actual figure is in fact five instances in three years! The truth would surely have affected the jury's decision and with this mathematical error so prominent in deciding the verdict, the conviction is unsafe. Microbiologist Dr David Drucker who has helped to identify the SIDS gene, says of Meadow's Law (and he is not a lone voice) "It's scientifically illiterate".

No one is suggesting that mothers never kill their babies. But Meadows law tars all mothers who have suffered multiple infant deaths as murderers. Prior to Sally's arrest, baby Christopher Clark was found dead at eleven weeks of age. Christopher was said by the pathologist at the time to have died from a lower respiratory tract infection, and examination by experts since that time have indicated that the most probable cause of death was a 4lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary haemosiderosis. Death was certified as "natural causes".