Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A jury gives its verdict on Roy Meadows Law

Full Story:
The acquittal of Trupti Patel on charges of killing three of her babies has cast further doubt on the expert evidence of Leeds paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow. Eric Roberts reports. PROFESSOR Sir Roy Meadow should be tending the garden of his home in Weeton, north of Leeds, as he enjoys his retirement after a distinguished career as a paediatrician. Instead, he finds himself once more at the centre of controversy, after the expert evidence he gave against Mrs Trupti Patel, on trial for murdering her three babies, was rejected by the jury. Yesterday, as no-one took calls at his home, it appeared as if at least six other cases of mothers convicted of murder in which Sir Roy was involved may be reviewed. Particular scorn has been poured on his assertion during the trial in 1999 of solicitor Sally Clark, wrongfully convicted of killing two of her babies, that the odds of losing two of her babies to Sudden Death Infant Syndrome were one in 73 million. Mrs Clark's conviction was overturned by the Appeal Court in January, and yesterday her husband Stephen said he was astonished that Sir Roy should have been chosen as the chief expert witness for the prosecution again in the Patel case. Sir Roy's view that one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder has become known as Meadow's Law, and his evidence before the Clark case had always been accepted virtually without question by police, prosecutors and courts. But he himself has admitted that the one in 73 million figure he quoted was wrong; the figure is nearer one in a hundred, and where genetic factors are involved, the odds could be as low as one in four. Now the General Medical Council is looking into whether we need to take action against him. It's more than 25 years since Sir Roy, now 70, first coined the term Munchhausen's syndrome by proxy to describe a particular form of child abuse. In most cases, this is a mother inventing symptoms and fabricating signs in relation to her child, thus causing the child painful and unnecessary physical examinations and treatments. Beverley Allitt, the multiple child killer from Grantham Hospital, was said to be suffering from the condition. Formerly professor of paediatrics and child health at St James's University Hospital, Leeds, Sir Roy was president of the British Paediatric Association from 1994 to 1997. In a study entitled Unnatural Sudden Infant Deaths, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, Sir Roy dropped a bombshell, suggesting that doctors and coroners were helping abusive parents to get away with murder. Under pressure to resolve unexplained cases swiftly and without controversy, they were resorting to diagnoses of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: SIDS has been used, at times, as a pathological diagnosis to evade awkward truths, he wrote. He backed his assertion with evidence, gathered over 18 years, of 81 children judged by family and criminal courts to have been killed by their parents. In 49 of the cases, the children had initially been certified as dying from SIDS, or cot death, and the mother was found responsible for the death, usually smothering, in more than 80 per cent of cases. But grave doubts have subsequently been cast on Sir Roy's research techniques and expertise. The Appeal Court judges in the Sally Clark case described his evidence as grossly misleading and manifestly wrong; but he was still the man the prosecutors in the Patel case turned to for his expert opinion.

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