A reader has sent a useful clarification regarding Münchausen's by Proxy and Shaken Baby Syndrome. I have posted it at the bottom of this page.
Campaigners and legal experts accused the Home Office yesterday of flouting human rights laws over its refusal to pay compensation to a mother wrongly convicted of the murders of two of her children.
Angela Cannings, who spent 18 months in prison for killing her infant sons, had her conviction quashed a year ago after judges ruled that expert evidence given by Professor Sir Roy Meadow had been flawed.
During the fight to secure her release, her husband had to sell the family home and she was forced to live separately from her surviving daughter for two years before the trial.
Despite her ordeal, the Home Office rejected an application for compensation from Mrs Cannings, 41, at least partially on the grounds that Sir Roy Meadow was an independent witness. Campaigners claimed it defied provisions under Section 5 of the Human Rights Act which states that "everyone who has been the victim of arrest or detention in contravention of the provisions of this article shall have an enforceable right to compensation".
The acquittal of Mrs Cannings was the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving mothers wrongly accused over the unexplained deaths of their infants, including the solicitor Sally Clark, who is still waiting to hear if her claim for compensation after three years in prison has been successful.
Michael Naughton, a law lecturer at the University of Bristol and founder of the UK Innocence Network, said: "The compensation scheme operated by the Home Office is contrary to the human rights legislation it introduced. Someone whose conviction has been quashed by the courts is entitled to compensation, whatever the grounds of that decision.
"Mrs Cannings faces up to three years before she could prove that before the British courts and then another two or three years if she needed to take the case to Europe," he added.
The Home Office insisted last night that it was "confident" that its compensation system complied with the Human Rights Act. But legal experts said that officials dealing with the compensation claim had failed to take any account of the cost to Mrs Cannings of the loss of her liberty or the effect on her family of their long legal battle.
Compensation will only be given if the defendant has had to depart from the normal appeals process or can be shown to have suffered from the actions of a "deficient" member of a public authority.
Speaking from her home in Cornwall, Mrs Cannings said: "We have lost four or five years of our lives and none of it was our doing. The authorities took over our lives and now they are saying no one is responsible."
She added that she was appealing against the ruling.
Mrs Cannings was jailed for life in 2002 after being convicted of murdering her sons - seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999 - partly on evidence from Sir Roy.
The Home Office refused to comment on Mrs Cannings' compensation claim. But officials inferred that her claim had fallen outside its criteria for both compulsory and discretionary payments because Professor Meadow was a private expert asked to "offer their opinions and expertise" on evidence rather than a state employee.
At the back of Angela Cannings's home in Saltash, Cornwall, is a balcony overlooking a valley. "My greatest pleasure," she says, "is to go out there and think." When her husband, Terry, observes her on the balcony, the woman he sees is not the calm survivor who can tell audiences of 500 about her bereavements, trial and imprisonment.
Alone, believing herself unobserved, all the misery of the past 15 years catches up and contorts her face to match what she calls "the mess inside".
Angela Cannings: 'I can only take one day at a time'
The euphoria of a year ago, when her convictions for murdering her two baby sons were quashed and she was released by the Court of Appeal, soon passed. "She's free, she's free," began the song that her surviving daughter Jade, then seven, wrote for the occasion. Her husband, Terry, was with her, too, as they drove off to start a new life, having made legal history.
Ten months earlier, Sally Clark (also charged and convicted with murdering her infant sons) had been freed by the Court of Appeal, but it was in the summing up following Cannings's appeal that the three judges made a ruling that should have made Britain a safer place for parents whose babies suffer unexplained death.
Prosecutions, they said, should no longer be brought, unless there is "additional cogent evidence". Acknowledging that some abusers might go free as a result, they said they were averting a greater evil, that of breaking up families needlessly.
"Post-Cannings" is now a legal tag, but becoming a household name has not made the past year any easier. Angela may no longer be serving a life sentence for murder but mother, father and daughter are beginning a different kind of life sentence, one that no court is capable of quashing.
It was on November 12, 1999 that their lives, already freighted with the repeated tragedy of their babies' deaths, turned into catastrophe. That day, while three-year-old Jade was at playgroup, their 18-week-old son Matthew stopped breathing - much as his sister Gemma had done in 1989 and his brother Jason in 1991.
Within hours of the child's death, social services swooped. Jade was put on the "at risk" register. As a suspected murderer, Angela was faced with a choice between staying at home while her daughter was fostered (with adoption the next step) or leaving home herself; she chose the latter.
Just when they needed each other most to grieve, the family were separated and pitched into a long legal battle. For the two and a half years before the trial, Angela was allowed to see her surviving child for only six hours a week, under supervision. Even when at a family wedding, she could not share a car with Jade for fear that she might harm the child. "I lived in constant fear of losing her," says Angela, 40.
Roaming from one relative to the next, Angela worked with lawyers to prepare her case. Her supporters assumed that she would be acquitted, as there was nothing in her life, apart from the medical evidence, to suggest she was a murderer. The jury, however, found her guilty.
The jurors may have remembered the misleading statistic that paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow quoted at Sally Clark's trial, that the likelihood of two natural cot deaths in one family was 1 in 73 million. She feels, too, that her own performance in the witness box counted against her: "I didn't handle myself well. I felt so frustrated at the way my words were twisted."
On conviction, she was sent to Durham jail to join Rosemary West and Victoria Climbie's aunt. From there, she went to Bulwood Hall, where a fellow inmate's greeting with scalding coffee landed her in hospital for a fortnight. Thoughts of Terry and Jade kept her going and every night she would kiss the photographs she kept under her pillow.
She is often asked why she appears to have coped relatively well, when Sally Clark is even more traumatised. "I suppose it was my upbringing. My brother and sister both had hare lip/cleft palate and my mother just got on with it. I have got on with it, too, but inside I am not coping - I feel such anger, bitterness and frustration."
In the New Year, a dramatised version of the Cannings case will be broadcast, starring Sarah Lancaster and Timothy Spall. Even living Cannings's life second-hand proved harrowing for the former Coronation Street actress.
"She lost a stone in weight and looked shaken," says Angela. That docudrama will stop at the uplifting moment when Angela walked free from the Court of Appeal - it will not show the difficulties of the past year.
"We allowed it to be made so that Jade will be able to understand what happened when she is older," says Angela. "What hurts me most of all is what this has done to her and Terry."
Chain-smoking Terry describes himself, before Matthew died, as "a happy-go-lucky" type who put in so many hours as a bakery manager that he spent little time with his family. When Angela had to leave home, he was forced to give up the job that he calls "the love of my life", and become Jade's full-time carer.
With no income and mounting bills, he lost everything he had worked so hard for - his house, his savings, his identity. "Where's Mummy? What's she done wrong?" Jade would ask him.
"I thought it would all be over soon, so I said she was working in the bakery," he says. "In some ways, it was easier for Angela. She removed herself from the world. She had her family and the lawyers to keep her going. For me, there was just Jade. She used to beat me up, hitting me in the face until I cried. Sometimes, I wouldn't see anyone else for four or five days."
He took refuge in alcohol and suicidal thoughts. Even now, he says: "Some days when I wake up, all I can think of is going back to bed. I don't want to go out; I can't meet people. My only security is my bedroom and my living room. I'm not the bloke I was. The only good to come of this is my relationship with Jade. I now know what many fathers miss."
Of all the family's sufferings, Jade's are the most poignant because so much of the damage was done in "the child's best interests", to protect her from a supposedly abusive mother. Although I visit at mid-day on a weekday, Jade is at home. "She screams and sobs when we take her to school," says Angela. "She thinks I won't be here when she comes back."
Her parents call Jade a "Jekyll and Hyde" character, sweet one moment, savage the next. She is so insecure that she won't allow anything in her room to be moved - scarcely surprising since, in the course of one day five years ago, she lost not only her baby brother but also her mother.
In a sense, she lost her father, too, as he was so distraught that she almost took charge of him. Over time, offers of help from family faded, leaving only those she calls "the horrible people" - the police and social workers who dominated her life, without actually helping her.
"We went to meetings where 20 or 30 people talked about what was best for her, without having met her," says Angela. "It was two years after Matthew's death before they organised a play therapist for her. Then, as soon as I was sent to prison, they stopped the therapy because she was no longer 'at risk'."
Jade, who had grown fond of the therapists, was once again suddenly bereft. "Worst of all for her was never being mentioned because of the secrecy rules surrounding children at risk. Everyone talked of the dead children, but never Jade. It was as if she didn't exist."
It has been hard for the three surviving members of the family to make a new life together. But for Angela's will to make it work, they would not be all under the same roof now. She has emerged from her four-year ordeal, by her own admission, harder and more cynical, but fired by hope.
"I came out of prison with two wishes," she says. "To live with my husband and daughter, and to try to stop others suffering as we have done."
Initially, they went to live in Salisbury, where Angela and Terry had grown up, married and had their children. "There were too many memories, so we moved. We thought Cornwall would give us a fresh start and, by now, I expected to be back at work as a shop assistant. But I'm not ready. I can only take one day at a time."
Used to running to her father for everything, Jade still turns to him for comfort and Angela has had to control her jealousy. This summer, Jade began hitting her mother. Terry isn't used to sharing their daughter, so it has been hard for him, too. But, neither in Wiltshire nor Cornwall has anyone from social services asked if they need help and it took the couple 10 months to swallow their pride and ask for assistance.
Angela and Terry are now receiving counselling. Jade has asked for a play therapist: "I have this big knot inside me," she has told her parents. She is still waiting to see a child psychiatrist.
One of the black thoughts that haunts Angela is a fear of being sent back to prison. It is still not known why her babies died, although her family tree shows many other infant deaths.
Theoretically, she could be retried. That is highly unlikely, but the judges' words at her appeal have not made the difference to others that she had hoped.
"Post-Cannings", it is true, no criminal cases have been brought against parents whose babies have died, where no other evidence exists. Angela, however, feels anguished for those similarly convicted parents whose appeals have either not yet been heard or who have been told the legal grounds are insufficient, even though the cases should probably never have been brought in the first place. She worries, too, that nothing has changed in the family courts, where 20 cases of suspected parental abuse are heard for every one that goes to a criminal court.
"Cannings does not apply," Judge Butler-Sloss, President of the Family Division, announced two weeks ago in a case where parents are trying to prevent the adoption of the daughter they are accused of attempting to smother.
When cases are judged on "the balance of probability" rather than "beyond reasonable doubt", children are still being taken from parents on largely unsupported medical evidence. In the new year, when she meets the Attorney General, Angela will call for a public inquiry.
"In another year's time," she says, "I hope I will be able to paint a more cheerful picture - of my own family, and of the justice system in this country"
A mother who was jailed for life for murdering her two baby sons, has had her conviction overturned.
Angela Cannings, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, was sentenced in April 2002 for the murder of seven-week-old Jason in 1991, and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999.
But on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction, saying it was unsafe.
Ms Cannings, 40, a former shop assistant, always maintained that the two boys died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), or cot death.
SIDS was recorded as the cause of death after Ms Cannings' first child, Gemma, died at the age of 13 weeks in 1989.
Ms Cannings has one surviving daughter, who was born in 1996.
After the conviction was overturned Ms Cannings said outside the court: "These last four years have been a living hell, finally today justice has been done and my innocence has been proven.
"I would like to go home now and be mummy to our very precious daughter."
Her solicitor, Bill Bache, said she was "extremely relieved" but in an emotional state.
"She is very grateful to the Court of Appeal for putting right the injustice that occurred at Winchester Crown Court on April 16 2002 when she was wrongly convicted of the murder of two of her children," he said.
"It seems to her that this is a prosecution which should never have been brought.
"They are extraordinarily difficult matters. 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."
Ms Cannings' husband and stepson were in court, and applause was heard when the verdict was announced.
Her appeal has been the last of three major cases to receive high-profile attention because of the prosecution's reliance on evidence from two main scientific experts.
In January, solicitor Sally Clark, who had been jailed for murdering her two baby sons, was cleared by the Court of Appeal.
And in June, 35-year-old pharmacist Trupti Patel was cleared of murdering her three babies by a jury at Reading Crown Court
The government has now ordered a review of the procedures used for investigating mothers accused of murdering their own babies.
And the Crown Prosecution Service has said it will look at whether to review past cases involving certain medical experts, including Professor Sir Roy Meadow.
He was involved as a prosecution witness in all three of the recent cases.
The solicitor of another mother jailed for murdering her two babies said he hoped Ms Cannings' acquittal would help his client's bid for freedom.
Donna Anthony, of Yeovil, Somerset, was 25 when she was given two life sentences in 1998 for murdering her daughter and son.
She always claimed they were victims of cot death but an appeal to quash the convictions was unsuccessful in June 2002.
Ms Anthony's solicitor George Hawks says Sir Roy was also an expert witness in the case against her.
She has been in jail in Durham for five-and-a-half years.
Six mothers jailed for killing their babies have been given new hope of release from prison, the Evening Standard can reveal.
Sources say one of the cases being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission is that of Donna Anthony, who was jailed for life six years ago for the murders of her two children aged 11 months and four months.
All six cases - which could be sent back to the Court of Appeal - hinge on expert evidence that has been brought under scrutiny after a series of murder trials involving infant deaths.
It is the first time the commission has been able to consider the cases of parents convicted of killing a child without there being new evidence or new issues that might lead to a fresh appeal.The six applications were a result of a Court of Appeal judgment earlier this year, which quashed Angela Cannings's conviction for killing two of her children and suggested some guilty verdicts may have been based on unreliable expert evidence.
The three Appeal Court judges dismissed medical expert Professor Sir Roy Meadow's "law" on cot deaths that "one in a family is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder".
Sir Roy's discredited theories were the basis for the cases against two other mothers, Sally Clark and Trupti Patel, who were also later cleared.
After the Cannings judgment, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ordered a review of 258 similar cases where a parent was convicted of killing a child under the age of two in the past 10 years.
Twenty-eight cases were identified by Lord Goldsmith, who wrote to each one to tell them they had an opportunity to apply to the CCRC to investigate whether the convictions were "unsafe".
The CCRC confirmed it is considering six cases. Chairman Professor Graham Zellick, said: "Our main job is to review the cases of those who feel they have been wrongly convicted of criminal offences, or unfairly sentenced. We do not consider innocence or guilt, but whether there is new evidence or argument that may cast doubt on the safety of an original decision.
"The new legal ruling about infant death has allowed us for the first time to consider cases where the conviction was made on the basis of medical expert opinion."
Donna Anthony was just 22 when toddler Jordan suddenly stopped breathing in February 1996.
She had suffered respiratory attacks before, but on this occasion Ms Anthony could not revive her 11-month-old daughter, despite giving mouth-to-mouth. A postmortem proved inconclusive and the coroner ruled it was a cot death.
Then, a year later, her four-monthold son Michael, who had been released from hospital hours earlier, also stopped breathing.
Doctors restarted his heart but he had brain damage and Ms Anthony and husband Dean agreed to have his life-support system switched off.
Finally, in 1998, after a police inquiry based on little hard evidence and assisted by Sir Roy Meadow
Ms Anthony was found guilty of murdering her children and sentenced to life in prison.
The jury heard a button was found in Jordan's stomach. Sir Roy was asked if the child could have choked on it. His reply: "Accidental ingestion of foreign bodies, so common in older toddlers and children, is really rare under the age of one year." Studies have since shown youngsters of a similar age to Jordan are quite capable of picking up objects.
Sir Roy said the odds against two natural cot deaths were a million to one. The case is given priority by the review commission. Ms Anthony, now 30 and in Durham Prison, said: "They call me a baby-killing bitch every day. But I didn't kill my children - I loved them."
The three cases of Sally Clark, Trupti Patel and Angela Cannings changed the way the courts now view baby deaths.
All had their convictions for murdering their children quashed.
Solicitor Mrs Clark was convicted of killing two of her children on Sir Roy Meadow's evidence.
But she was allowed to appeal because fresh medical evidence cast doubt on post mortem findings. It was revealed that results of some laboratory tests were not passed on by an important witness, so lawyers on both sides were unaware of their significance.
Pharmacist Trupti Patel was acquitted of murdering her three babies after her trial heard "Meadow's Law" was flawed.
Shop assistant Mrs Cannings, from Salisbury had her conviction for killing two of her children quashed.
The Appeal Court overturned a jury's verdict she smothered seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999.
Mrs Cannings, 40, insisted the babies were victims of cot death, as her first child, Gemma, had been at the age of 13 weeks in 1989.
Six people convicted of child killing are having their cases investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, it emerged today.
They are among 28 cases referred to the Commission following a review by the Attorney General, a spokesman for the Commission said.
The Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice, has been unable to contact around a dozen of that number and is still trying to contact others.
It is also looking into five separate infant death cases to see if there are grounds for appeal. The majority of the 11 are still serving their sentences.
The six being looked into include the case of Donna Anthony, of Yeovil, Somerset, who was given two life sentences in 1998 for killing two of her babies.
Prosecutors built the case against her at her original trial around the evidence of the now-discredited paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadows. An appeal against the conviction was dismissed in 2000.
The Attorney General's review followed the quashing of the conviction of Angela Cannings in January this year for killing two of her children. That conviction also relied on Sir Roy's evidence.
Today, at a press conference in central London to launch the Commission's annual report, its chairman Professor Graham Zellick, said changes were needed in the way courts dealt with expert evidence.
He said: "I would have thought that we have now reached the point where we needed to re-examine the whole law of admissibility of expert evidence from first principles".
He said judges should be allowed to throw experts out of court if they did not think their evidence should be relied on.
He said: "There ought to be some quite straightforward legal framework which would allow the judge to say 'get out of my court, don't come into here with this nonsense'."
First, let me just congratulate you on your great site, which has proved very informative to me on several occasions. However, while looking for info on the Angela Cannings case, today, I felt like making a couple of quick notes.
While it is unmistakably true that Münchausen's by Proxy can be (and is) overdiagnosed, all the articles in the Münchausen section in IB give the inexperienced reader the idea that it is only a construct of Meadow's imagination.
In fact, what is being debated by experts is its applicability to sudden infant death cases, not its existence.
Münchausen's by Proxy is, indeed, an (extremely rare) psychiatric condition - and anyone who has worked as a forensic pathologist can tell you so. In fact, there are many cases in the medical literature of children suffering for years of unexplained serious symptoms (and even undergoing dozens of surgeries) only for it to be revealed by Hospital surveillance cameras that all the symptoms and lesions are produced by the mother. (It's usually the mother, but not always - a famous case is the "Angel of Death", the UK nurse who was convicted of several counts of homicide and attempted homicide in a pediatric ward, and which is briefly mentioned in one of the articles in IB.)
These children were all "miraculously" cured of all their myriad ailments once isolation from the parent or carer was instated.
What should be contested (and what is Injustice) is the assumption that multiple cot deaths must be due to Münchausen's. This is where Meadow's went wrong.
(Though in some cases he's correct - let us just remember the American mother who confessed to over the decades having suffocated 8 biological children and one adopted child, and simulating their cot death.)
Additionally, I'd just like to mention that Shaken Baby Syndrome (which, in fact, has almost nothing to do with Münchausen's by Proxy), contrary to what one of the articles suggests, is very easy to identify in autopsies performed by a skilled pathologist, as it leaves clear visual evidence in the cadaver.
All this to say that while it is imperative to fight injustice, one must fight it with facts - sometimes journalists aren't very knowledgeable on the topics they must write, and what is simply a lack of information comes across as erroneous and misleading. It doesn't suffice to read an article and assume that the journalist researched it properly and it must, therefore, be integrally correct.
A couple of notes on what Münchausen's by Proxy really is (taken, perhaps, from a pathology book), would greatly benefit the IB pages dedicated to it.
Keep up the great work!