The Litany of unsafe convictions

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The Litany of unsafe convictions

Post  Penny Mellor on Fri May 02, 2008 11:12 am

The Sunday TimesJanuary 22, 2006

Legal blow for jailed baby-death parents

Lois Rogers, Social Affairs Editor

DOZENS of parents imprisoned for killing their children will be denied a chance to challenge their convictions, in a ruling set to reignite the debate over the validity of shaken baby syndrome.

A review of 88 such cases ordered by Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, is expected to say only four of the convictions merit reinvestigation. The result, to be published next month, has angered lawyers, doctors and parents protesting their innocence.

They say they were denied the far-reaching review which in 2003 enabled Sally Clark, a solicitor, to overturn her wrongful conviction for murdering her two babies.

According to one clinician, no pathologist was asked to help with interpreting complex medical reports in the review. Chris Milroy, professor of forensic pathology at Sheffield University, said he believed it was limited to examining only the clinical evidence presented in court.

The attorney-general’s department declined to comment on the alleged shortcomings of the review.

Joe Wainwright, 29, from Salisbury, who was convicted of shaking to death his four-month-old son, is among those who had been pinning their hopes on the review. He is supported by his girlfriend Katrina Drake, a musician.

Wainwright, a chef, was told last week that his case does not merit reinvestigation. However, the couple have attracted the support of a lawyer, Bill Bache, who is giving his services for free, allowing them to fight on.

While most people in such circumstances cannot afford further legal action, the couple are applying for leave to take their case to the Court of Appeal to argue that their baby son Joshua died of natural causes.

They say the jury in their case was not aware that on three previous occasions Joshua had mysteriously stopped breathing and had been rushed to hospital. Wainwright was arrested when the baby suffered a fourth attack, from which he died 24 hours later.

“At first I fell apart, but now it is overwhelming anger that is stopping us leading a normal life,” said Wainwright, who was sentenced to 3Å years for manslaughter, of which he served 21 months.

“You can’t imagine how it feels to lose your baby like this, to be accused of killing him, to be prevented from having a funeral. It has destroyed my faith in the law.” He is barred from staying overnight at the couple’s home and from contact with Drake’s 10-year-old son from an earlier relationship.

The attorney-general previously reviewed 297 infant deaths, including the 88 shaken baby syndrome cases, after the release in 2003 of Clark, who had received a life sentence for murdering her two babies, and a second mother, Angela Cannings. Of those 297, 28 cases were identified as being of concern.

Cannings, who was found to have been wrongfully convicted of killing two of her children, was freed in 2003 and Donna Anthony left prison last year after serving seven years of a life sentence for the murder of her two children. All the babies were found to have died from natural causes.

Sir Roy Meadow, a leading paediatrician, was struck off for the flawed evidence he gave claiming the babies in the Clark, Anthony and Cannings cases had been smothered. His advice is believed to have influenced many other cases involving similar expert evidence and has undermined confidence in medical witnesses. They are paid up to £6,000 to advise the defence or prosecution.

Confidence was further eroded last summer when two shaken baby convictions were thrown out. Goldsmith ordered further scrutiny of the 88 cases in which children had died under the age of two.

Penny Mellor, who runs Dare to Care, a pressure group for parents accused of harming their children, is supporting hundreds of families claiming they are victims of miscarriages of justice.

“All the evidence that freed Sally Clark and the others was evidence not heard in court,” she said. “When you are talking about such controversial convictions, it is obvious the review should include all the medical evidence available.”

Shaken baby syndrome, first identified in the 1970s, has become increasingly controversial amid fierce medical argument. New research has indicated that even very gentle, accidental shaking could be fatal in certain vulnerable individuals.

One leading critic of shaken baby syndrome, John Plunkett, a forensic pathologist of Hastings, Minnesota, has helped secure the freedom of more than 100 wrongly accused parents in America and has given evidence in British cases.

He said experts were still trying to understand the complex biomechanics of head and neck structure. “More people are realising that shaken baby syndrome is nonsense and shouldn’t be used to send people to prison,” added Plunkett.

Clark and four other parents whose convictions have so far been overturned have received no compensation for their imprisonment. Lorraine Harris, 36, of Alvaston, Derbyshire, who was freed last summer after being cleared of shaking her four-month-old baby to death, has suffered the further tragedy of losing a subsequent child to adoption because she was heavily pregnant when she was jailed five years ago.

“I hope I might be able to see him sometime, I have a solicitor looking into it, but I’m not hopeful,” she said.

_________________
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. John F. Kennedy 35th president of US 1961-1963 (1917 - 1963)
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Re: The Litany of unsafe convictions

Post  Penny Mellor on Fri May 02, 2008 11:15 am

Childminder Keran Henderson jailed for shaking baby to death in a fit of temper

Fran Yeoman

A childminder was jailed for three years yesterday for shaking an 11-month-old baby to death.

Keran Henderson, 42, collapsed in the dock as a jury at Reading Crown Court convicted her of killing Maeve Sheppard in a fit of temper.

The infant was taken to hospital critically ill in March 2005, but her life-support machine was switched off two days later, after a bedside christening.

Medical experts told the court that the child’s fatal brain injuries could only have been caused by a shaking so violent that it caused her neck to snap back and forth.

Henderson, a registered childminder from Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, wept as she was convicted of manslaughter after a five-week trial.

Outbursts from Henderson’s relatives in the public gallery meant the court had to be adjourned before Mr Justice Keith could sentence her. He told her: “You are going to have to live the rest of your life with the knowledge that Maeve died in your care. We do not know what really happened to make you snap in the way the jury found that you did.”

The court was told that Henderson, a mother of two, was an experienced childminder and a Beaver Scout leader. She began her childminding business seven years ago, and was hired by Ruth and Mark Sheppard in January 2005.

At 11am on March 2, Henderson noted in the diary that she kept for Maeve’s parents that she was “whizzing around in her baby walker”. Minutes later, the emergency services were called.

Experts for the defence argued that the injuries could have been months old. Henderson claimed that the baby had been repeatedly ill almost from the first day in her care – a claim that Maeve’s parents denied.

She said that as she changed her nappy, Maeve “stiffened and jerked back”. Her eyes rolled back into her head, her body went floppy and she was gurgling as if something was stuck in her throat, Henderson claimed. Days after Maeve’s death, she gave up childminding.

The prosecution admitted that Henderson was “good with children”, and a website set up by her husband is full of messages of support from children she has cared for and their parents. But after deliberating for more than 12 hours the jury rejected her account by ten to two.

Henderson’s family, including her husband, Iain, a former Royal Parks police officer, reacted angrily to the verdict.

Amid emotional scenes in court, Mr Justice Keith said that he no longer wanted Mrs Sheppard’s victim impact statement to be read by her in open court. He said that he had read it twice in private and assured Mr and Mrs Sheppard that he had fully digested its contents. In her statement Mrs Sheppard said: “Keran Henderson not only took my daughter’s life away, but she took away our right as her parents to grieve her, to mourn her, to think and remember her in any other way than with pain and anguish. She also took away our right to say goodbye to Maeve.”

Mrs Sheppard, who was pregnant with the couple’s second daughter when Maeve died and now also has a son, said: “When we left Maeve at 7.30am that morning with Keran, she was healthy and smiling, having played blowing raspberries with her dad on the bed prior to leaving home.

“The next time we saw Maeve she was unconscious fighting for her life. I just don’t know how to get past the pain and memory of holding her in our arms after turning the machine off in hospital and watching her die.”

After the hearing, the Sheppards said in a statement: “No sentence will ever bring back our daughter and we will never be able to forgive this woman for what she took away from us.” They added: “We carried out the relevant checks to make sure Keran was a good, trustworthy childminder and our gut instinct was to trust her. If only she had told us that it was not working out between her and Maeve, then we would have our baby daughter with us today.”

_________________
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. John F. Kennedy 35th president of US 1961-1963 (1917 - 1963)
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Re: The Litany of unsafe convictions

Post  Cybertiger on Fri May 02, 2008 3:38 pm

Our judicial system is a disgrace and it appears that doctors have made it so. It's frightening!

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Re: The Litany of unsafe convictions

Post  fassitsangel on Tue May 06, 2008 3:59 pm

Will be interesting to see what happens in this case now!

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