|(Copyright 2004 SMG Newspapers Ltd.)
A MOTHER was cleared of murdering her
four-month-old son yesterday following a retrial ordered after a
discredited paediatrician gave evidence at the original hearing.
Margaret Smith, 39, collapsed after a jury found
her not guilty of smothering her baby, Keith, at their home in Hull
in September 1994.
At the retrial at Newcastle Crown Court - ordered
by the Court of Appeal, which found her conviction unsafe -
Professor Sir Roy Meadow's discredited theories were not heard, and
the jury cleared Mrs Smith, originally from Ayrshire, of murder in
less than four hours.
The Newcastle jury was not told during the
eight-day hearing that they were involved in a retrial. Nor were
they told that Mrs Smith and her second husband, also named Keith,
were convicted of killing her first husband, Robert (Jock) Brannan,
in 1995. He was found in the bath with 51 stab wounds.
The couple, who blamed each other, were cleared
of murder but jailed for six years for manslaughter.
The mother of nine, from a family of travellers,
was sentenced to life in jail in October 2002 for her son's murder.
However, she was cleared of killing her
five-month-old daughter Kelly, who died in 1992. At the original
trial at Leeds Crown Court, Professor Meadow suggested parents who
kill a child often take them to hospital in the preceding weeks with
a fictitious illness - something he claimed Mrs Smith had done with
The Court of Appeal quashed the 2002 verdict last
April and ordered a retrial into her son's death after Mrs Smith's
defence team successfully argued that Professor Meadow's evidence at
the original trial was prejudicial and should have been
The Leeds trial came about after Mrs Smith, who
moved from Ayrshire to Hull in 1980, was accused by a child witness
of smothering Keith.
The girl, aged seven, claimed in 2000 that she
saw Mrs Smith put a pillow over the boy's face to stop him crying.
In a police interview, Mrs Smith said the girl was "evil"
The jury at the retrial heard there were
inconsistencies in the girl's account. Gary Burrell QC, defending,
highlighted inconsistencies in the child's evidence and claimed she
was a "very good liar".
He also said that, while she insisted she had not
gone to school on the day Keith died, a register proved she was
Mrs Smith, who suffers from epilepsy and had
several fits during the retrial, did not give evidence.
Post-mortem tests showed cot death was the most
likely cause of Keith's death, just as had happened two years
previously with Kelly.
Yesterday Richard Thompson, Mrs Smith's
solicitor, said his client was "pleased and relieved" her
ordeal was over.
Mr Thompson said it was unlikely Mrs Smith would
claim for compensation.
He said: "I don't think she would have
grounds to make a claim. To be successful in a civil action you have
to show that in some way the prosecuting authorities did not have a
realistic prospect of getting a conviction. Their response to that
would be that they prosecuted the case honestly on the basis of
evidence they had."
Professor Meadow gave evidence in the trials of
Sally Clark, Trupti Patel and Angela Cannings, all wrongly accused
of killing their babies and later cleared.