Our Black and White Court System [...]; DECLAN DESERVED MORE IN LIFE AND DEATH

Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), April 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

Our Black and White Court System [...]; DECLAN DESERVED MORE IN LIFE AND DEATH


Byline: Sarah Nelson ??Child abuse specialist at Edinburgh Universit

Our black and white court system means this woman was at first found guilty of killing her baby son then, after winning her appeal, is now suddenly innocent. But would a mentally well woman really leave her dead child in his cot, in her flat, for months on end? This is not justice. Not for him. Not for her. And not for us

It is easy to react to babies' shocking deaths with rage, incomprehension and a search for blame.

It's easy, at these times, for us not to think straight. But our legal system has to think straight.

Kimberley Hainey, a drug addict whose toddler son's mummified body had been left for months in his cot in her squalid flat, has now been cleared after the Court of Appeal quashed her conviction for what was thought to be a shocking murder.

The judges overturned the verdict and criticised prosecutors for using expert witness evidence from unqualified specialists.

But the Hainey case is just the latest example in the UK, where mothers convicted of murdering their babies have been freed on appeal after a conflict of "expert" physical evidence, producing an unsatisfactory, unresolved result for everyone.

We do not know what happened to Hainey's son Declan. We do not know how or why he died.

We do not know Kimberley Hainey's mental state or whether she can now be trusted to be a safe parent.

We do not know what role (if any) negligence by health and social workers played in this tragedy as the disappearance of a baby failed apparently to ring any alarm bells.

But expert witnesses do know their integrity and reputation will be questioned next time - and must be wondering if testifying is worth the risk in these highly emotive cases.

It was astonishing that the three judges seemed to refer to Sue Black, a professor of anatomy, as "an obvious quack doctor" though they later insisted they were not referring to a specific witness.

Respected across the world for work behalf of victims of violence and genocide, Prof Black has given vital evidence in a number of important prosecutions like that of paedophile Neil Strachan.

All the judges needed to say was that her professional opinion was disputed. Besides, she was giving an opinion about bones, where she is indeed a specialist.

Relying so heavily on expert evidence, then overturning it and blaming these same experts simply ignores other important aspects of these cases. …

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