[Original article] -
The Sally Clark Campaign
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
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
|Clark: had third baby on bail
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 Harrys 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 Christophers 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 couples 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 Christophers 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 Harrys 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.
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 peoples 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
|Court of Appeal: agreed there were 'inaccurate statistical arguments'
Almost from the time Sally Clarks trial ended, murmurs of unease at the guilty verdict began to sound.
As time went on, apparent flaws began to appear in the prosecutions 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 Universitys professor of statistical science, Peter Donnelly, dismissed it as poor science
its not rigorous, its 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 jurys 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 summers 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 Harrys 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 countrys 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 Harrys 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 Clarks case back for a second appeal this autumn.
Solicitors in the dock: tales of murder and intrigue
Less than a handful of solicitors in modern times have been charged with murder - and only one was hanged, writes James Morton. The unique and unhappy distinction goes to Herbert Rowse Armstrong, sometime major in the Royal Engineers, who on 31 May 1922 was hanged for the murder of his wife Katherine.
Armstrong, in practice and as the part-time clerk to the justices at Hay in Brecknock, was popular in the locality. Weighing only some seven stones, he was regarded by his neighbours as henpecked, a cross he bore with good humour. In July 1920, after 13 years of marriage, Katherine made a will in his favour. The next month her mental health had deteriorated and she spent until January 1921 in a mental home. On 22 February she died.
Initially the diagnosis was heart disease. Later that year, another local solicitor, Oswald Martin, received a box of chocolates from an unknown admirer. He did not eat them, but a dinner guest who did was violently ill.
On 26 October, Armstrong entertained Martin to tea and handed him a scone with the words 'excuse fingers'. Within hours Martin was seriously ill and was found to have arsenic in his urine.
Armstrong was arrested on New Year's Eve and was found to be in possession of a packet of arsenic which he would claim was for killing weeds. In all, 20 packets of poison were found. His wife's body was exhumed and also contained arsenic. The defence was that his wife had committed suicide.
Local betting was five to one on an acquittal until the judge, Mr Justice Darling, began to question Armstrong closely on why he had so many packets instead of sprinkling the poison direct from one packet. Armstrong replied: 'At the time it seemed the most convenient way of doing it.'
Curiously, another local solicitor - Harold Greenwood of Kidwelly - had been charged with the murder of his wife only two years before.
She too had died from arsenical poisoning. Greenwood was not as popular as Armstrong. Far too soon after his wife's death, he remarried.
Brilliantly defended by Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC, one of the foremost advocates of his day, he was acquitted. His daughter's evidence that she also had drunk some of the burgundy which was supposed to have been laced with the poison probably saved him.
Over the years it has been suggested that had Greenwood, who later reported on Armstrong's trial, been convicted, the major would never have tried to poison his own wife, let alone Martin.
There are also others who believe Armstrong to be innocent. He was suffering from syphilis at the time of the trial and this may well have contributed to the unsoundness of his mind.
There is no doubt that the often eccentric Darling was biased, taking on the burden of prosecutor, as judges often did in those days.
Solicitor Martin Beales, who lives in the old Armstrong home, wrote a book, Dead Not Buried, in which he forcefully put forward the argument that Mrs Armstrong had taken the poison by accident.
Given Darling's bias, he maintains that Armstrong should have been granted a retrial - which was not possible in those days . We have at least moved on in that respect.
Plea from prison
Sally Clark is being held at Bullwood Hall prison in Essex. Following the decision to refer her conviction to the Court of Appeal, she wrote this letter to her supporters:
Thanks to all of my supporters who have written to me this week, after the heartening news on Tuesday. I will try to answer all of your letters but, there have been so many, that it may take some time. Please bear with me I am only allowed so many pens at one time!!
Life doesnt get any easier in here, but your steadfast support over the last two-and-a-half years has kept me going in the darkest moments. Hopefully, there is now light at the end of the tunnel and my ordeal will soon be over. The justice system moves terribly slowly, so you must have patience. We arent there yet by a long way. This is just the beginning, and it could still be a long hard fight to prove my innocence.
Thanks to all of you who have always believed in me. God willing, Ill be able to thank some of you in person later this year.