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Sally Clark passed away during the night on March 16 2007

Sally Clark

Solicitor accused of killing sons freed

Sally and Steve Clark

A solicitor jailed for murdering her two baby sons has been cleared by the Court of Appeal.

Three judges decided that Sally Clark's conviction was "unsafe".

The 38-year-old, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, had always protested her innocence since being jailed for life in November 1999 at Chester Crown Court.

She was convicted of smothering 11-week-old Christopher in December 1996 and shaking eight-week-old Harry to death in January 1998 at the luxury home she shared with her husband Stephen.

A composed Mrs Clark emerged from the cells at 15:40 GMT to be hugged and kissed by her husband.

Mrs. Clark said: "Today is not a victory. We are not victorious. There are no winners here.

"We have all lost out. We simply feel relief that our nightmare is finally at an end.

"I would like to thank the hundreds of people who have written to offer me their support.

"These letters have been my lifeline - a source of great comfort especially during my bleak times and I've read and re-read every single one.

"Be in no doubt, it was a tough experience to be in prison.

"The support that I received while I was in there has made it much more bearable."

Sally Clark Case Timeline

Dec 1996 11-week-old Christopher dies
Jan 1998 Eight-week-old Harry dies
Nov 1999 Sally Clark jailed
Oct 2000 Court of Appeal: "overwhelming" case against her
Jan 2003 Freed after new appeal

Brain infection

Crucial evidence that set Clark free
The court had been told that new medical evidence that suggested Harry Clark may have been suffering from a brain infection was withheld from her defence team.

The judges, Lord Justice Kay, Mr Justice Holland and Mrs Justice Hallett, told the court: "We are satisfied that the trial of this appeal was not a fair trial in that the jury were deprived of the opportunity of hearing and considering medical evidence that may have influenced their decision."

The General Medical Council (GMC) said it was considering whether to take action against two pathologists whose evidence helped convict Mrs Clark.

Dr Alan Williams initially said Harry had died from being shaken - and then changed his finding to smothering during the trial.

Michael Green, professor of forensic pathology at Sheffield University, who has since retired, also changed his opinion about the cause of death.

A GMC spokeswoman said: "We are aware of the doctors and are considering whether action, if any, needs to be taken."

Mrs Clark burst into tears as the verdict was announced and later mouthed "I love you" to her husband.

Frank Lockyer, Mrs Clark's father, said his feeling was one of "total admiration" for his daughter and son-in-law and for the way they had coped over the last five years.

He added: "It's very easy to be proud of one's daughter when they are taking A-levels and university degrees.

"But the real time to be proud is how they react when the chips are down."

Earlier, the Crown had indicated that if Mrs Clark won her appeal they would not be seeking a retrial.

Pathologist criticised

Clare Montgomery QC, for Mrs Clark, said that new evidence emerged in 2000 that there was a staphylococcus aureus infection which had spread as far as Harry's cerebral spinal fluid.

She said the prosecution pathologist Dr Alan Williams, who had carried out post mortems on both babies, had known about this evidence since February 1998.

Microbiological test results demonstrated Harry probably died suddenly in reaction to the bacteria, she added.

Lord Justice Kay also criticised Dr Williams, saying the medical evidence was not disclosed because of his "failure... to share with other doctors investigating the cause of death information that a competent pathologist ought to have appreciated needed to be assessed before any conclusion was reached.

"The Court of Appeal on the previous occasion reached their conclusions wholly unaware of this aspect of the matter."

He added: "We have no doubt that the resulting convictions are, therefore, unsafe and must be quashed."

The Sally Clark Campaign

Sally Clark campaign page

Sally Clark Stephen Clark has proclaimed his wife's innocence ever since she was convicted of the murder of their two sons. Now the couple - both solicitors - have unearthed new evidence to help in her appeal, writes Victoria Maccallum in the UK Law Gazette.

Stephen Clark is a disillusioned man. 'You grow up respecting the rule of law and being taught to have faith in the criminal justice system, and then suddenly everything you know and believe in is pulled from underneath you.'

A finance partner in a top ten City law firm, Mr Clark is the husband of solicitor Sally Clark, currently serving life imprisonment for the murder of her two baby boys Christopher and Harry.

Since she was charged in July 1998, and since her sentence in October the next year, Mr Clark has been his wife's most vocal supporter, campaigning for her release and proclaiming her innocence to anyone who would listen.

And the number of people who are prepared to listen has mushroomed. From the early days of Mr Clark, Sally Clark's father (retired senior policeman Frank Lockyer) and a small band of friends protesting her innocence, the campaign to free her has fast gathered momentum, and was further boosted by last month's decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to send the case back for appeal in the autumn, the Court of Appeal having rejected the appeal from the initial trial.

'The amount of support we have received has been phenomenal, particularly from the legal profession,' says Mr Clark.

He singles out two solicitors in particular 'without whom we wouldn't be here today': family friend and retired solicitor John Batt, who - despite being older than 70 and the veteran of three heart bypasses - was so shocked by what he saw happen at the original trial that he 'has dedicated the last three years to trying to put it right'; and Marilyn Stowe, chief assessor of the Law Society's family law panel and partner at Leeds-based Grahame Stowe Bateson.

'Although neither Sally nor I knew Marilyn before the trial, she read about the case and was so incensed that she contacted us wanting to help.'

It was Ms Stowe, says Mr Clark, who was key in discovering the previously undisclosed medical reports which the Clarks' defenders say show that Harry, the youngest son, died of natural causes.

'We had been trying for many months to get the hospital to release all the medical records it held on the boys, but without success,' he says. 'When Marilyn got involved, she went on the rampage, knocking on doors and rattling cages at Macclesfield hospital, and eventually a huge pile of medical documents - including the critically important microbiology reports - arrived on her desk.' The hospital declined to comment.

Mr Clark is 'hopeful but fearful' at the prospect of the appeal. 'I cannot see what else we are meant to do to demonstrate Sally's innocence - thanks to this report, we have proved how one of our babies died, which is more than the prosecution managed to do,' he says. 'I cannot see how such an appeal can fail, but then we thought that of the last appeal and we were disappointed then. Sally and I have to have faith in the system to maintain hope, but it is difficult.'

When Sally Clark was told of the discovery of the report and its potentially conclusive evidence, Mr Clark says her first reaction was to ask if Harry would have suffered before his death. 'As is typical of the kindest and gentlest person I have ever known.'

The thought that the report may not have come to light if it were not for Marilyn Stowe's persistence is terrifying, Mr Clark says, and he says he is eternally grateful for the profession rallying round to support its own. All the supporters have been working on a pro bono basis, including numerous medical specialists and advice on how to handle the media from public relations consultant and solicitor Sue Stapely. The campaign's solicitor, Michael Mackey at Burton Copeland in Manchester, has worked on a pro bono basis ever since the trial, such is his belief in Sally's innocence.

Mr Clark is grateful to the profession for more than just pro bono advice. 'Addleshaws, my firm in Manchester, where I had been a partner, had been incredibly supportive of me and Sally, personally and financially, and I shall always be in their debt.' he says. 'But, with all the publicity the case had generated [Addleshaws was mentioned in court reports], it was inconceivable that I could have returned to them.'

He seems remarkably sanguine about the fact, stressing that 'with all the publicity the case had generated, it was inconceivable that I could have gone back into the sort of work I was doing'.

He decided to move back to London, where he had worked for eight years post-qualification, with his surviving son. 'I could have understood if the City didn't want to touch me with a barge-pole because of all the controversy, but everyone in the profession without exception was extremely supportive, and I was deeply moved when I was inundated with job offers,' he says.

Despite this outpouring of goodwill from fellow lawyers, he is realistic about the effect the trial has had on his career. 'I've had to start from the bottom again, and although I've recently been made partner, it's at a more junior level than my experience really merits. But I am extremely grateful for my firm's vote of confidence.'

Still, in the scheme of things, it is a miracle that he has clawed his way back into the ranks at all. 'The easiest thing for me to have done would have been to go on the dole and take my son to live with my parents,' he admits. 'But that wouldn't have been good for me, or for Sally, and it was a huge boost to her when she found out that I had been able to restart my career.'

Being a lawyer has also helped him in sifting through the complex medical evidence produced about the boys' deaths. 'If nothing else, I have been trained to think objectively and logically, and when looking at medical reports I try to treat it as an academic exercise rather than evidence of how my children died, otherwise it would have been impossible to cope.'

Sally Clark's own career as a corporate lawyer was 'incredibly important' to her, according to Mr Clark, as she had qualified later in life after a stint as a banker.

The decision by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) last year not to strike her off the roll of solicitors, therefore, was an immense fillip to her confidence.

'You can't underestimate the effect it had on her,' he said. 'It was the first time that an independent, official, quasi-judicial body had said that there was something wrong with the conviction.'

Doubts over her conviction have been seen as the only other plausible reason why the SOT suspended her indefinitely. It said the fact she was in prison was sufficiently punitive, while suspension protected the profession's reputation.

A return to the law for his wife, post-release, is an issue which Mr Clark is loath to commit to, fearing that he may be tempting fate. 'If this appeal is successful, she will still have been in jail for three years,' he says. 'She will have been institutionalised, and once she is out she needs to relearn basic life skills, not to mention building our family unit once again.'

However, all these plans hinge upon the result of the appeal later this year. Although a lawyer by trade, Mr Clark admits to having become highly disappointed with the criminal justice system.

'When we were both first arrested, we co-operated fully with the police, and gave full answers to all their questions without a lawyer present. We trusted the system, but it failed us. I've always assumed that, on the whole, our criminal justice system is one of the best in the world. It's not. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the system got it horribly wrong.'

He also feels strongly about the use of juries in trials with specialist evidence. 'I have no criticism of the jury in our trial, but they were put in an impossible position and were totally out of their depth. Much of the trial was based around incredibly complex medical evidence, and when a jury of 12 ordinary people sees one doctor saying one thing that they don't necessarily understand, and another doctor contradicting him and saying something else, who are they meant to believe?' In this climate, he says, the 'false one in 73 million' statistic (see below) swung the jury's opinion.

There is a lot Mr Clark feels angry about, but he tries to restrain from 'going on a personal crusade, as it's the wrong thing to do'. He and his wife are looking ahead to the appeal and trying to keep positive, although he admits that there is a lot more to get through before she comes home.

'The case isn't over yet. We've got a long way to go, and this is the start of another long fight, but at least we're back in the game again.'

'Smoking gun' of statistical evidence damned solicitor

Sally Clark was 32 when her first baby, Christopher, died at the Cheshire home she shared with husband Stephen in December 1996.

Although a previously healthy child, and despite his parents using all possible safety precautions - such as an apnoea monitor to check his breathing - he was found dead in his Moses basket aged 11 weeks. The death was certified as natural causes, probably a lung infection.

The couple decided that the best therapy for bereavement was to have another baby, and Harry was born on 29 November 1997.

Eight weeks after he was born, as his father prepared a late-night feed for him in the kitchen, Harry collapsed in his bouncy chair and died on 26 January 1998.

Four weeks after Harry's death, the police arrived at the house to arrest both the Clarks on suspicion of murdering the boy, whose death had been attributed by a local Home Office pathologist - who was, perhaps significantly, not a paediatric pathologist - to 'baby shaking'.

The autopsy result prompted a review of Christopher's death, which changed the original natural causes verdict to 'death by smothering'. In July 1998, Sally Clark alone was charged with the murder of both boys. By the time the case came to trial 18 months later, she had given birth to the couple's third son.

Much of the prosecution case hinged upon evidence from the pathologist Dr Alan Williams, whose post-mortem report on Harry recorded that he had detected retinal haemorrhages in both eyes, which - together with tears in the brain and severe injuries to the spine - were seen as classic symptoms of shaking.

Michael Green, emeritus professor of forensic pathology at Sheffield University, confirmed the retinal haemorrhages, and together with Dr Williams, re-examined Christopher's tissues. He found fresh bleeding in the lungs which he said was a 'marker', but not proof of, smothering.

However, much of the pathology in the case was fiercely disputed. For example, the slides which allegedly showed retinal damage in Harry's eyes were sent to Professor Philip Luthert, consultant histopathologist at the institute of opthalmology at Moorfields eye hospital in London, who in turn found - just three days before the trial was scheduled to start - no evidence of retinal haemorrhages.

Roy Meadow

One of the biggest guns wheeled out by the prosecution was Sir Roy Meadow, retired emeritus professor of paediatrics and child health at St James' University hospital.

His testimony, which hit the headlines and provided the 'smoking gun' soundbite which stuck in people's minds, was that the chances of a double cot death happening in a family such as the Clarks was 73 million to one: or, it was likely to happen once every hundred years. Mr Clark has been contacted by almost 50 other families who have suffered two or more unexplained infant deaths.

In his summing up, Mr Justice Harrison said that 'although we do not convict people in these courts on statistics', he emphasised that 'the statistics in this case do seem compelling' and told the jury that 'this may be part of the evidence to which you attach some significance'.

The jury appeared to follow his advice, and convicted Sally Clark by majority verdicts (ten to two) on each count of murder.

She was jailed for life in November 1999, and an appeal heard in October the next year was dismissed.

'Flawed' evidence spurred the campaign to clear Sally Clark

Almost from the time Sally Clark's trial ended, murmurs of unease at the guilty verdict began to sound.

As time went on, apparent flaws began to appear in the prosecution's evidence. The much publicised 'one in 73 million' statistic produced by Professor Sir Roy Meadow was the first casualty.

Sir Roy had calculated that the chances of one cot death - or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) - in a family such as the Clarks was one in 8,543. As they had two deaths, he multiplied 8,543 by 8,543 to produce the final, damning statistic.

However, some statisticians have been loath to support Sir Roy in his use of the figure, and many have been lining up to criticise.

The Royal Society of Statistics issued a statement claiming that the figure had 'no statistical basis', and warned that the case was an example of a 'medical expert witness making a serious statistical error which may have had a profound effect on the outcome of the trial'.

Criticism continued to pile up. Oxford University's professor of statistical science, Peter Donnelly, dismissed it as 'poor science it's not rigorous, it's just wrong' and Peter Fleming, the author of the report in which Sir Roy found the 73 million figure, was quick to distance himself. He claimed that 'the statistic was never intended as an estimate of real risk it was used completely out of context, and it is potentially misleading and dangerous'.

Their basic argument is that simply squaring the odds of one cot death ignores the environmental and other factors which make a second death far more likely; two deaths in the same family would not be unconnected events.

The Court of Appeal judges took these arguments on board, and while agreeing in their judgment that 'inaccurate statistical arguments had been made' (case ref 1999/07495/Y3), they claimed that the figure would not have influenced the jury's verdict, a conclusion greeted with incredulity by professional observers at the trial.

However, the campaign to free Sally Clark continues to gain momentum, and last summer's decision by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal not to strike her from the roll of solicitors was the first quasi-official statement of doubt at the safety of the verdict.

The discovery of a 'cot death gene' by scientists at Manchester University in February last year raised the possibility that the odds of a second SIDS death in one family could be as high as one in four.

Even more significant was the discovery earlier this year of a previously unseen microbiology report which appears to indicate that Harry died of natural causes.

Blood and other tests showed the presence of staphylococcus aureus in Harry's blood, bacteria which can cause a lethal and quickly spreading infection.

The tests - not revealed at the trial - were sent for verification to James Morris, honorary professor of biological sciences at Lancaster University and one of the country's leading experts on bacterial toxins in cot deaths.

Professor Morris reported that 'staphylococcal infection is a recognised cause of sudden and unexpected death in infancy', and stressed that on the basis of this new information, this was the most likely cause of Harry's death. 'No other conclusion could be sustained,' he argued.

Why the report was not disclosed at the original trial has never been made clear, but what is certain is that its emergence at this late stage has resulted in the Criminal Cases Review Commission sending Sally Clark's case back for a second appeal this autumn.

Baby deaths case sent to appeal

A solicitor serving a life sentence for killing her two babies is to have her case sent back to the Court of Appeal after her husband uncovered evidence that throws the reliability of her conviction into doubt.

Sally Clark has always denied smothering her two sons, Christopher, aged 11 weeks, and Harry, eight weeks, claiming they both suffered cot deaths. But in November 1999 she was found guilty of their murder at Chester Crown Court.

Yesterday The Independent reported that strong doubts remained over the safety of the conviction, which was imposed after the jury was told there was a "one in 73 million chance" that both deaths, a year apart, had had natural causes.

Her husband, Steve, 37, who has always believed his wife is the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, has led a campaign to have the conviction quashed.

Yesterday the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) confirmed that it had been made aware of fresh evidence and was sending the case back to the Court of Appeal for a second time. Clark's first appeal failed shortly after her trial.

The evidence consists of medical tests on the couple's second child, Harry, which were not disclosed to the defence. Blood and tissue samples, taken by a Home Office pathologist, Dr Alan Williams, showed Harry may have died from natural causes.

Last night Mr Clark, also a solicitor, told BBC Radio 4's File On Four that he was delighted that the CCRC had seen "the strength" of the fresh evidence, which he said provided a powerful new ground for appeal.

"I have always known that my wife was innocent and have been determined to find justice for her," he said. "After over four years of struggle against these false accusations, I hope that the system will now move quickly to give it to us."

The evidence could also have an impact on the case of Angela Cannings, who, like Clark, was found guilty of killing two of her babies and sentenced to life imprisonment in April this year. Her appeal will be heard later in the year.

The tests, on eight swabs taken at Harry's post-mortem examination, were commissioned by Dr Williams. The laboratory at Macclesfield Hospital, Cheshire, wrote a report on its results in January 1998, a few days after Harry's death. It revealed that it had found lethal levels of the bacterial infection staphylococcal aureus in his body.

Staph. aureus is a common bacterium, often to be found in the nose and throat as a result of post-mortem contamination. But the critical finding was that the infection in the cerebrospinal fluid had traces of polymorphs - showing that Harry was infected while alive.

Medical experts who have seen the evidence have told the Clarks that the most likely cause of death was "overwhelming staph. aureus infection" and that "no other cause of death was sustainable".

The microbiology lab report was found in 1,000 pages of medical records obtained by the defence team two years after the conviction.

Sir Roy Meadow, a witness for the prosecution, told the jury that the two deaths were unnatural and that there was a "one in 73 million chance" that both deaths happened naturally. He added that "it could only happen once every 100 years".