|21/07/04||Stolen Innocence: The Story of Sally Clark Reviewed by Edward Teague|
“What is Truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”
Francis Bacon. Essay on Truth
Sally Clark, smart and attractive daughter of a Chief Constable, a high powered and highly paid solicitor, resident of Wilmslow, the stockbroker rich and soft underbelly of Metropolitan Manchester, was found guilty at Chester Crown Court in November 1999 of the murder of her two baby sons.
The press went crazy. The Sunday Mirror: “Fall from grace for the woman with everything;” the Daily Mail, “Driven by drink and despair, the solicitor who killed her babies;” Manchester Evening News: “Pregnant days after murdering baby son.” ,”Baby killer was 'lonely drunk” headlined the Daily Telegraph.
Det. Insp. John Gardner, who led the investigation, said he was pleased with the verdicts and hoped that Clark could finally come to accept responsibility for what she had done. It had been the most difficult of tasks, he said, to confront a parent and accuse her of killing her own children. “Most people believe it is an unbelievable act. It is harder to accept when you have a woman who has advantages in life.”
Mr Gardner said of Clark's husband: “I don't know how much he knows, how much he suspects, or whether he has almost turned a blind eye to what has gone on.”
Professor Meadows, a renowned expert medical witness in the field of paediatric pathology, had declared that the possibility of 2 cot deaths occurring in the same family at the committal hearings was 1: 1 million, at the trial he said it was 1: 73 million.
On being recalled to give evidence during the trial Dr Williams, a Home Office consultant forensic pathologist was asked to answer questions about blood samples taken from the body of Harry (the second child to die) in a written question submitted by the jury he said “…the chemistry of blood is so unreliable after death as to be of no diagnostic value…”. Of the post mortem blood sample “…it was submitted for toxicological examination and would have been sent for viral studies”.
Cross examined by the defence, Williams claims that the appropriate microbiology reports had been provided to the prosecution (and therefore available under disclosure to the defence). This was untrue.
The significance of this question and the answer slid past the Rolls Royce mind of Julian Bevan QC renowned as a prosecutor, and his Junior John Kelsey Fry, the medical witnesses and the press as does the need to question Prof. Meadows remarkable statistics, subsequently described by the Royal Statistical Society as “statistically invalid”.
The significance of the question, the actual reports and its findings eventually yielded to years of terrier like digging and pestering of statisticians, pathologists and paediatricians by her devoted and unswervingly faithful husband Steve Clark and legal defence team. On Monday 11th February 2002 the post mortem microbiology report on Harry eventually surfaces from Macclesfield Hospital. It is reviewed by leading pathologists who say that the evidence of 8 sites of Staphylococcus aureus infection in Harry's corpse and the presence of polymorphs within the cerebrospinal fluid show that Harry's death was caused by overwhelming staphylococcal infection and that no other cause of death can be sustained. It later emerges that these samples had been sent at the time to the national reference laboratory at Colindale for further testing. The significance of Dr Williams remarks in answer to the jury's apparently innocent question at the trial about post mortem blood results become crystal clear.
Nonetheless it is twelve months later at the Royal Courts of Justice on January 28th 2003, that the Court of Appeal meets a second time to consider Sally Clark's case. Clare Montgomery QC (who has replaced Julian Bevan QC, that ornament of the Bar), explains that there is a clear case of non-disclosure of the microbiology report, that Harry died of natural causes due to Staphylococcal infection. Invited by the court to explain, Dr Williams refuses or at least fails to appear, this is announced by Robin Spencer QC for the Prosecution.
“My Lords, Dr Williams has decided not to appear as a witness…and the prosecution no longer seeks to uphold these convictions… The Crown does not seek a retrial”
Lord Justice Kay (who died recently and was preparing to preside over the appeal of Sion Jenkins who now faces a re-trial) delivers a short verbal judgement, later expanded in written form “…The statistic 1: 73 million is clearly inadmissible in law, could not have failed to mislead the jury, and should have never been allowed in evidence… Sufficient in itself to make these convictions unsafe. Dr Williams is responsible for failing to disclose a material document, which must have affected the outcome of the trial and is a serious matter. The appeal is allowed with costs. There will be no retrial.”
Dr Williams silence at the Court of Appeal was the “Open Sesame” that released Sally Clark from the grip of Group 4. A fax arrived at the Courts of Justice authorising her release from Bullwood Hall Prison in Essex, Sally's home for three long, dark years of Kafkaesque nightmare. The Governor has added a personal hand written message to the fax, “We all knew you would do it, Sal”
The media go crazy. Worldwide. Lawyer cleared of murder of 2 sons.
In addressing the British Academy of Forensic Sciences February 18th 2004, Clare Montgomery QC said, “Sally Clark had not killed her sons, they were not murdered. This grotesque miscarriage of justice was the result of flawed evidence given by forensic scientists”.
The murders were imaginary, apparently the faulty construct of blinkered and obtuse and elderly experts, their apparent causes illusory, the consequences unimaginable to any parent. The capacity the of medical forensic profession for increasing the population of imaginary murders was not however stilled. Earlier, Professor David Southall had seen a Channel 4 programme concerning the Clark case, a colleague of Professor Meadow. He complained to the Police on the basis of seeing the programme, that Steven Clark, the father, has been involved in the death of his 2 children. This bizarre allegation was judged on June 5th 2004 by the General Medical Council who ruled that Prof Southall acted in a manner that was “inappropriate”, “irresponsible” and “misleading” in compiling a report outlining his accusations and concerns. They will re-convene on August 5th for further consideration. Meanwhile Dr Southall resolutely refuses to withdraw his accusation. Steve Clark and the author describe these claims as a “sick joke”.
John Batt held a watching brief for Sally Clark's father, he is an experienced solicitor and TV writer on legal issues. Necessarily his book is partial, but close access to the family (he knew Sally Clark as a child), the defence case and the very public campaign orchestrated by PR professional Sue Stapely, the book provides a unique and essentially coherent insight into the case. It takes a serial diary type format, in places it is confused and jumbled, the absence of an index makes cross-referencing difficult, but the tale almost cinematic in its dramas and dénouements, even given its leaden prose, is worth the effort.
Child killers are few, mothers who murder even fewer. Stereotypically they are harassed vulnerable, inadequate, uneducated waifs, abused by drunken or drugged boyfriends living in squalor in rented accommodation, strung out and barely supported by overworked, understaffed social services and exiguous medical support.
When a well-educated solicitor is charged with murdering her 2 children in her bedroom, the world watches with the eager fascination that Orwell identified. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge allows Robin Spencer QC to announce that Sally Clark has had treatment at the Priory Hospital for alcohol problems. This had been revealed when Police found receipts for payment for the treatment when searching their house, long before charges had been laid.
In a curious agreement approved by the judge, the jury were denied hearing anything about Sally Clark's alcoholism, binge drinking or evidence concerning her character. Julian Bevan QC, who never met Sally Clark, traded with Robin Spencer QC for the defence in pre-trial hearings, silence on the alcohol problems Sally had suffered, which it was agreed have no direct bearing on the case, with an agreement not to introduce character witnesses for Sally. The world of high pay, high pressure solicitors who charge hundreds of pounds per day for their time, expertise and legal and technical skills, where taking half bottles of vodka to work and slipping out to Marks & Spencer for gin and tonic mixer drinks is outside most newspaper reader's experience.
Despite the advice of her Rumpolish, criminal court savvy solicitor Mike Mackay, to appear “mumsy”, she appeared in smart, tailored, dark legal business suits. This does nothing to soften the image presented by the prosecution of an ambitious highly paid and glamorous lawyer, living in the wealthy purlieus of Manchester, trapped by unwelcome parenthood, smothering or in some other way killed her children in her own bedroom.
This is an unusual case; the jury first have to be convinced two murders took place, and then consider if Sally Clark was responsible. They approach the case with the correct and simplistic view that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, finally 2 of the jury cannot accept she is guilty and a majority verdict is given.
Despite this, the dishonesty of the Crown Prosecuting Counsel's forensic scientists finished her off. The jury, unnamed, unknown, were truly the heroes of the case, described by the author as “…most in their teens, or early twenties, one man perhaps one woman is over 40. 3 have difficulty reading the oath. They look as if they have been beamed up to an alien planet by Scotty in Star Trek”.
It was these (to Mr John Batt) apparent simpletons, who penetrated the obfuscating fog of legal terms, medical terminology, and pedantic process. It was these 12 peers, good and true, who identified the simple clear need to answer a simple clear question. A question they framed in writing and presented to the judge. Harry died, blood samples were taken, what did they show?
Faced with this clear simple question, Dr Williams, the Home Office consultant forensic pathologist produced a simple response. He lied. Remarkably the Appeal Court judges said they discounted the possibility that Dr Williams deliberately concealed the information. Three years after Sally Clark had entered prison and her family's unbelievable anguish, enormous legal costs, and the press world wide had published photographs of Hope Cottage, their family home entitled “The Death House”, Dr Williams precipitated her release by refusing to explain himself.
Mr John Batt says in a word of advice “…if anybody is arrested for anything – but particularly if it is for murdering a baby – they should refuse to answer the questions without a criminal lawyer's advice”.
As anyone familiar with the world of criminal prosecution knows, the Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Press, don't want the Truth.
They want a result.
In a not dissimilar case at Winchester, Angela Cunnings, by an extraordinary coincidence, like Sally from Salisbury, who had been convicted for the murder of two of her three children who died, was released. Margaret Hodge, Blairite Minister for Children, announced the review of 5,000 possible injustices in the Family Court. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, was no doubt still otherwise busy determining the legality of invading Iraq and thereby killing hundreds of Iraqi children with high explosive bombs, napalm, mines, missiles, cluster bombs, and the other violent consequences of all out modern warfare on densely populated cities. He stated that 258 convictions for murder, manslaughter and infanticide of babies would be “urgently” reviewed and 57 people in prison, would be examined and if necessary fast-tracked to the Court of Appeal. (The concept of m'learned members of the legal profession fast tracking has an especial appeal – perhaps fast-track has some relationship with a fast buck?)
Not to be outdone in this tsunami of legal (and no doubt highly remunerative) re-cycling and navel gazing, Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General announced the following day, that the Director of Public Prosecutions would personally review 15 cases awaiting trial.
It is not known (and it's unlikely) that any members of the jury who framed the written question that opened this medico-legal scandal are being canvassed for their forensic skills and clear simple, straight thinking. Perhaps Scotty has beamed them back home.
Stolen Innocence: The Story of Sally Clark byJohn Batt, Ebury Press 2004 ISBN 0091900700 336 pps. Amazon Books
Edward Teague firstname.lastname@example.org