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Another nanny cleared of causing baby's death by shaking

(32 Posts)
Upwind Sat 26-Jul-08 08:10:34

www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article4402156.ece

"Five weeks after the start of the trial, Mr Justice David Clarke ruled that the medical evidence presented to the jury was insufficient for the court to convict safely. The case has underlined the difficulties of achieving a successful conviction in “shaken baby” trials, and raised serious questions about whether the Crown Prosecution Service should have proceeded to court.

Mr Justice Clarke told jurors: “There are no winners in this case. The loss of the parents is incalculable and the defendant herself has been under a cloud of suspicion for a long time, and that cloud will not necessarily lift at once just because the trial is coming to an end.” "

LittleBella Mon 28-Jul-08 22:07:16

I'm surprised anyone wants to go into childcare nowadays. It seems that the default response of the state to a child death, is to look around for someone to charge with murder.

Upwind Mon 28-Jul-08 22:35:54

Also it bothers me that so many of these cases seem to involve babies that had pre-existing health problems.

My closest friend in RL has a baby with SN, it worries me that she will have problems getting childcare.

LittleBella Mon 28-Jul-08 22:38:12

This baby died 10 months after the woman had had any contact with him, by the looks of it.

It's very badly reported here, because it's completely incomprehensible as to why there was any connection between her looking after him and him having an epilectic fit and dying 10 months after.

LittleBella Mon 28-Jul-08 22:39:44

But yes I agree with you. I wouldn't want to take the risk of being accused of murder/ abuse if a child in my care took ill/ died and of course that's more likely if the child has specific health problems.

edam Mon 28-Jul-08 22:40:38

I think the default response of the state is to charge the mother, tbh. Only occasionally they can't because she wasn't there, so they reach for the nearest woman they can pin it on.

Not that I am being extremely cynical or anything... but there have been so many very dubious prosecutions and miscarriages of justice. Remember that couple convicted of poisoning their adopted son with salt, who are now appealing? And such resistance to following through the implications of those miscarriages in the family courts.

LittleBella Mon 28-Jul-08 22:43:09

Yes, agree with you as well Edam.

There's some kind of psychosis going on in the legal/ medical professions re women and children. Like The Crucible. It's scary.

edam Mon 28-Jul-08 22:52:42

Yup, always reminds me of The Crucible, too. If only those in positions of power had read/seen Miller. Although maybe some of them have. And thought 'ooh, that's a jolly good idea, bring on the stones'.

toomuchmonthatendofthemoney Mon 28-Jul-08 22:59:03

edam, snorting into my black magic chocolate box, quote of the week i think! wink

NorthernLurker Mon 28-Jul-08 22:59:13

I read a bit about this case a few weeks ago. From what I understand the child was unwell from birth and mum and dad had a very hard time caring for him. They hired this nanny - very well respected - to provide some respite and maternity nuse type care. Shortly into the arrangement they went away for a night and the baby became very, very ill requiring hospitalisation. From the outline I read I felt that no jury was ever going to be able to establish if the nanny had caused the injury rather than any person nor indeed if the injuries were caused by an assault or whether the child was suffering from some other condition. Poor little mite was never exactly hearty.

I do think the Crucible parallel is an accurate one - very hard to prove your innocence, all too easy to suggest guilt.

edam Mon 28-Jul-08 23:02:44

Why, thank you, toomuchmonth, you are too kind!

Northern, that's what I remember of it too - seemed an impossible task to disentangle all the possibilities. Poor families (baby's and nanny's).

Upwind Tue 29-Jul-08 05:02:35

"From the outline I read I felt that no jury was ever going to be able to establish if the nanny had caused the injury rather than any person nor indeed if the injuries were caused by an assault or whether the child was suffering from some other condition. "

But there have been convictions where it seems that no reasonable person could establish whether injury had been inflicted at all and if so by whom! I felt sick reading about the Keran Henderson case and, as far as I know, she is still in prison.

It terrifies me that in a tragic situation - say if something happened to my baby, I would have to prove my innocence rather than be assumed innocent until proven guilty. Without a presumption of guilt, these cases make no sense. And we only hear about the ones where a baby has died. sad

NorthernLurker Tue 29-Jul-08 08:11:10

You're right Upwind - it is very scary. I remember a friend - a very level headed mother of four - saying to me at the time of the Sally Clark appeal - 'but how would you prove you didn't do it? You can't can you?'

itati Tue 29-Jul-08 08:18:02

The thread title really reads like you think she got away with murder.

Upwind Tue 29-Jul-08 08:48:56

Really itati? It wasn't intended to read that way.

I don't understand how these cases get to court and I don't understand how the jury can be convinced. Even if you were to take the discredited "shaken baby syndrome" diagnosis as though it were the only possible explanation for a baby's death, how can you possibly establish beyond reasonable doubt who did it?

itati Tue 29-Jul-08 08:51:14

Discredited shaken baby syndrome?

Upwind Tue 29-Jul-08 09:01:02

There was a panorama programme a few months back which seemed to make it clear it was just that. IIRC Camilla Cavendish in the Times has also been critical of it.

From wikipedia]

Some medically trained individuals assert that "no case studies have ever been undertaken to probe even a partial list of possible confounding variables/phenomena, such as the presence of intracranial cysts or fluid collections, hydrocephalus, congenital and inherited diseases, infection, coagulation disorders and venous thrombosis, recent immunizations,"[19] medications, birth-related brain injuries,[20] "or recent or remote head trauma. Until and unless these and probably many more factors are evaluated, it is inappropriate to select one mechanism only and ignore the rest of the potential causes."[21]....

tiggerlovestobounce Tue 29-Jul-08 09:14:23

I dont think anyone is suggesting that all intracranial/neurological problems that a baby may have are due to abuse.
But there are very clear cut cases of abuse, and also cases where the baby has been shaken and the perpetrator has confessed to what they have done.

edam Tue 29-Jul-08 10:53:49

Yup, shaking a baby is clearly bad news and is likely to cause harm. But a lot of the evidence presented in court about 'shaken baby syndrome' where it is not open and shut 'I did it, guv' appears to be questionable yet not questioned hard enough by the court - defence and judge (re. for instance the admissibility of evidence and whether an expert is going beyond what they can actually say with confidence - e.g. Roy Meadows, although that was about a different contentious theory).

I think courts and the CPS have not been critical enough of expert medical opinion. That doesn't mean such opinion is invalid, of course, just that it should be tested. Sometimes eminent people get carried away with their pet theories and fail to look at other possible explanations.

It is not easy for a layperson, including lawyers. to untangle the logic of medical evidence, or to judge the merits of opposing medical arguments. But the investigation should start from the principle of 'has a crime been committed? what evidence is there that this death is definitely as a result of maltreatment - could there be a more likely explanation?' That doesn't seem to be the case in many instances of convictions that are later overturned.

Once it goes as far as court, it should come down to the burden of proof being on the prosecution, not the defence, and tough questioning of experts who say 'this baby was definitely killed in x manner'. And challenging the assumption that a dead baby automatically means a crime has been committed.

Look at the salt poisoning case - the prosecution claimed the only possible explanation for raised sodium levels in the child was that the adoptive parents had force fed him salt. That's just ludicrous. Even if you could force feed a child salt, they would vomit it back up again - unpleasant but not fatal. And there are lots of other explanations for raised sodium levels.

(There was also a very sad back story to that case - SS had insisted on taking the children away from foster parents who wanted to adopt them and where they were settled 'because they were too old'.)

edam Tue 29-Jul-08 10:59:00

Yup, shaking a baby is clearly bad news and is likely to cause harm. But a lot of the evidence presented in court about 'shaken baby syndrome' where it is not open and shut 'I did it, guv' appears to be questionable yet not questioned hard enough by the court - defence and judge (re. for instance the admissibility of evidence and whether an expert is going beyond what they can actually say with confidence - e.g. Roy Meadows, although that was about a different contentious theory).

I think courts and the CPS have not been critical enough of expert medical opinion. That doesn't mean such opinion is invalid, of course, just that it should be tested. Sometimes eminent people get carried away with their pet theories and fail to look at other possible explanations.

It is not easy for a layperson, including lawyers. to untangle the logic of medical evidence, or to judge the merits of opposing medical arguments. But the investigation should start from the principle of 'has a crime been committed? what evidence is there that this death is definitely as a result of maltreatment - could there be a more likely explanation?' That doesn't seem to be the case in many instances of convictions that are later overturned.

Once it goes as far as court, it should come down to the burden of proof being on the prosecution, not the defence, and tough questioning of experts who say 'this baby was definitely killed in x manner'. And challenging the assumption that a dead baby automatically means a crime has been committed.

Look at the salt poisoning case - the prosecution claimed the only possible explanation for raised sodium levels in the child was that the adoptive parents had force fed him salt. That's just ludicrous. Even if you could force feed a child salt, they would vomit it back up again - unpleasant but not fatal. And there are lots of other explanations for raised sodium levels.

(There was also a very sad back story to that case - SS had insisted on taking the children away from foster parents who wanted to adopt them and where they were settled 'because they were too old'.)

tiggerlovestobounce Tue 29-Jul-08 11:20:09

I think that the burdon of proof does lie with the prosecution (unless there has been some recent major change to the way these things work)?

Upwind Tue 29-Jul-08 12:07:21

tigger, in theory it does, but in so many of these cases where a baby has died and a carer prosecuted there does not seem to be any evidence that they were the guilty party or that a crime was even committed. So the onus on them is to prove innocence and how can you possibly prove that you did NOT injure a baby?

Suzanne Holdsworth was another case...

ilovemydog Tue 29-Jul-08 12:12:22

This is just such a tragedy.

But so many of these 'shaken baby' cases have been due to either an underlying illness or accident. This is not to say that there have been some legitimate cases where a baby has been shaken...

It seems that the trend is to put the blame on someone, rather than accepting that no one is at fault...

tiggerlovestobounce Tue 29-Jul-08 12:12:53

Its hard to say what evidence was avilable to support the prosecution from reading news reports. When I read things in newspapers I'm never confident that I'm getting the whole story.
It doesnt seem likely to me that the police, and then the CPS, and then judge and jury are all caught up in some shared desire to prosecute and convict people for no reason.

edam Tue 29-Jul-08 13:40:29

sorry about the double post, computer was playing up.

Agree that of course newspapers can't give a full transcript of all the evidence. Although court reporters do try to give a fair summary - and, if they don't, can be prosecuted for contempt (some of the tabloid reporting of very big criminal cases has been really pushing the boundaries but not in these kind of cases involving babies).

And I know, it doesn't make sense that the CPS, (although it comes in for a lot of criticism about its performance generally) police and court would engage in a deliberate conspiracy to convict innocent parents.

But there has been a series of miscarriages of justice showing common features, where convictions have been obtained on the basis of medical evidence alone - there is no 'I saw her do it' or confession, no proof of what happened, merely an expert saying 'the child had raised sodium levels, he must have been murdered' or the equivalent. Which is very disturbing. Something has been going wrong with the treatment of those cases. It's not a one-off.

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