Baby deaths case sent to appeal
By John Sweeney and Robert Verkaik
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".
(c) The Independent