Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mothers, Murder and Medicine

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mothers, Murder and Medicine

Article excerpt

Gay partnerships THE DRAMATIC acquittal of Trupti Patel of the charge of murdering three of her babies would, of itself, have called into question a number of similar trials in which parents have been accused of killing their children, and have suffered enormously in consequence. But coming so soon - five months - after the acquittal of Sally Clark, a lawyer jailed for three years for the murder of two of her children, the case must alert us to the way in which expert evidence is used, and misused, in such trials. At the outset, it must be said that some parents do kill their children; it is simply naive to suggest that this crime can never happen because it is heinous and unnatural and such cases must be investigated. But the weight often uncritically attached to the testimony of medical experts in these cases must now be seriously called into question.

In particular, the evidence provided by the eminent paediatrician, Professor Sir Roy Meadow who testified against both Mrs Patel and Mrs Clark, is an instance of how what seems to be incontrovertible medical judgment can in fact be disputed or qualified. In the case of Trupti Patel, it appears that a tragic genetic disorder may have caused the deaths of her babies; in that of Sally Clark, one of her sons may have been suffering from a serious bacterial infection. Yet, because juries rightly respect the expertise of distinguished medics, it is often difficult for them properly to weigh the value of their evidence. In the case of Sally Clark, it was the controversial and dubious fashion in which Professor Meadow used statistical evidence to make his case that was particularly worrying. It is time to re-examine other tragic cases in which the assertions of Professor Meadow and some of his peers may have been disproportionately influential. We report today on a couple from Roehampton whose four children were taken away and put into care, largely on the basis of the professor's expert opinion that the death of their baby daughter must have been due to the baby having been given a dangerous toxin, arguing that the child may have been a victim of Munchhausen's Syndrome by proxy, a condition which he did so much to identify. …

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