The Press Association June 11, 2003
QUESTIONS FOR POLICE AND CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE
The acquittal of Trupti Patel today will inevitably lead to tough questions,
both for Thames Valley Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, about the
decision to bring the case to court.
The case against her appeared to be based largely on circumstantial evidence
and the disputed testimony of various medical experts who were asked to
review the deaths of her three babies.
Police and CPS said they were fully aware of the "sensitivity" of the case
from the outset, but felt they had a "duty" to investigate following other
similar high-profile cases.
The decision to charge Mrs. Patel with three counts of murder was taken after
11 months of "painstaking" inquiries and extensive consultation with a
"huge" number of medical experts, they said.
But the decision to bring the case - the proceedings will have cost tens of
thousands of pounds - now looks flawed.
The term Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids) has become a catch-all for the
deaths of babies which remain unexplained.
The problem for the prosecution was that it was ultimately unable to prove
that the deaths of Trupti Patel's children were anything other than sudden
and unexplained tragedies.
A central plank of the prosecution case was the broken ribs suffered by
Mia - the third of Mrs. Patel's babies to die - which it alleged was evidence
that she must have squeezed the infant's chest to stop her breathing.
But this proposition collapsed as several medical experts called by the
defence - and even one key prosecution witness - said they were more likely
to have been caused by the attempts at Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).
Professor Rupert Risdon, one of the country's foremost paediatric
pathologists, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, who carried out the post
mortem examination on Mia, concluded that the rib fractures could have been
caused by CPR.
Another central part of the prosecution case was that all three babies had
died without a natural cause being found, despite extensive medical
testing - in the case of Mia, both before and after her death.
This was advanced by the eminent paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who
gave evidence in the trials of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings about the
likelihood of their babies being victims of cot deaths.
Mrs. Clark, a solicitor, was convicted of killing two of her own babies, but
the conviction was later quashed. She had said the deaths of her sons,
Christopher and Harry, who died within 14 months of each other, were cases
Prof Meadow had told the Sally Clark trial that the odds of there being two
unexplained infant deaths in one family were one in 73 million - a claim
later disputed by the Royal Statistical Society.
A small group of protesters was present when Prof Meadow appeared to testify
at Mrs. Patel's trial - and they even attempted to distribute leaflets
questioning his credibility.
Mrs. Patel's defence team's case was that the children could have died of an
inherited genetic illness or metabolic disorder.
This theory was given even greater credence when Mrs Patel's maternal
grandmother told the trial that she had lost five of her 12 children in
Many hours were spent examining the reliability of the baby breathing
monitors given to Mrs. Patel, only for the prosecution to conclude that they
did not sound an alarm because they were not being used properly.
There was also no evidence that any of the children had suffered an Acute
Life-Threatening Event (ALTE) before their deaths which could have suggested
there had been previous smothering attempts.
The Crown also failed to establish or even advance a motive.
Paul Dunkels QC, prosecuting, had told the jury that it could have been an
intention to kill that came to Mrs. Patel in one moment and then left her the
The testimony of Mrs. Patel's husband Jay and the evidence of child
bereavement counsellor Jenny Thomas established Mrs. Patel as a loving,
caring mother who would never harm her children.
The prosecution was left with the testimony of paediatric nurse Helen
Johnson, who said Mrs. Patel appeared to be "unresponsive" with her second
son Jamie, as the only evidence to support their theory that she was capable
of smothering three of her own babies.
The six-and-a-half week trial highlighted the difficulties faced by the
authorities when investigating the sudden deaths of babies.
The case bore many similarities to the recent high profile trial of Angela
Cannings, who was jailed for life for murder last year after two of her
babies died suddenly.
She hopes that her appeal will be heard in the autumn.
Her lawyer, William Bache, said the structure of the prosecution case
against Mrs. Patel shared many common threads, and even the same lead
counsel, with the case against Cannings.
"The architecture of the prosecution case is that it is very unusual to have
three natural cot deaths in the same family - where 'very unusual' is seen
as a euphemism for 'highly suspicious'," he said.
"That you do not get children who are seen to be well one minute and then
dead the next, without there being some obvious cause, and thirdly that the
mother was around at the time with the child when it was suffering its fatal
"That raises the suspicion that it is the mother and it is up to the woman
to prove that it is not. That seems to be the approach in both cases - the
same attempt to reverse the burden of proof."
The case of Mrs. Patel demonstrates the difficulties doctors and the police
investigating the sudden and unexpected deaths of babies face in trying to
distinguish between foul play or a simple human tragedy.
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