Sally Clark had a brief and unhappy life. The daughter of a Divisional Commander of South Wiltshire police, a lawyer with a large and prestigious Manchester law firm, her first two children died within months of their birth and she was threatened with having her third child taken from her.
She was initially charged with her husband for murdering her first 2 children. Charges were subsequently dropped against her husband and she faced alone, a trial for their murder. She was found guilty and spent 3 years in prison.
She has now been found dead at the age of 42, the circumstances of which will no doubt become clear in the near future.
BBC (and other news reports) have been endlessly been relaying misinformation about Sally Clark, her trial and subsequent and successful appeal. There are two major points to be made.
1. The BBC have, since the news broke reported that the prosecution displayed her as a weak minded drunk. This is a lie and is based on a complete ignorance of what happened at the trial.
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, for the Dwefence, that ornament of the Bar, who never met his cleint before the trial, traded with Robin Spencer QC for the prosecution in pre-trial hearings, silence on the alcohol problems Sally had suffered, which it was agreed had 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.
At the conclusion of the trial, when the jury had returned their verdict of guilty, the judge allowed Robin Spencer QC who led the prosecution to announce that Sally Clark had received 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 amy charges had been laid.
This led of course to the publication the following day of an orgy of stores which had long been circulating in those bars in Manchester where the demi-monde of the legal profession, policemen and journalists slake their thirsts and swap gossip.
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 were typical press reaction unleashed by the gratuitous and unecessary post trial revelation of Robin Spencer QC.
Quite how the jury reacted to the failure of the accused to provide a single character witness in forming a judgement about her it is impossible to determine (they voted 10-2 so 2 thought her inoccent) ... it certainly did not help her case. The subsequent Press coverage removed any doubts the public may have had about her guilt.
Paradoxically BBC news and Press reports the many and glowing reports, and support by family and friends - support her lawyers excluded from her trial in a grubby deal between the lawyers and with the collusion of the Judge.
2. BBC news and other reports persist in their hounding of Professor Meadow and his illusory statistics about child deaths. His evidence had negligible effect on the appeal at which the prosecution stated it ..."no longer seeks to uphold these convictions… The Crown does not seek a retrial”
The 2nd appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice on January 28th 2003, before Lord Justice Kay (now dead) (led by Claire Montgomery QC of the famous Matrix Chambers - the defence team having sensibly ditched Julian Bevan QC) was brief and related entirely to a single point.
During the trial there had been a most remarkable intervention in the proceedings by the jury.
On being recalled to give evidence during the trial Dr Alan Williams (pic), 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”.
It was the jury who had 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 Alan Williams, produced a simple response. He lied.
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. It was a lie. It was a point that Julian Bevan QC failed to pursue. It was this bald faced lie that led to her eventual release from prison and acquittal. Claire Montgomery's appeal notes are available (30 pages Word) the the first 2 paras cover the discovery of the medical reports showing infection in Harry. The 3rd para states;
"This is a clear case of non disclosure by the prosecution. This non disclosure has caused a serious miscarriage of justice. "Invited to the appeal to explain, Dr Williams failed to show up. Collapse of case. Prisoner acquitted and released.
The truth was, of course revealed after 2 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 1998 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 (this presence of infection by SA was known by Dr Wiliiams in February 1998). It later emerges that these samples had been sent at the time to the national reference forensic 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.
Robin Spencer QC for the Prosecution, probably fingering his collar and raising a degree of sweat on his noble brow addressed the Court...
“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” (Dr Williams was subsequently banned by the GMC from Home Office pathology work for 3 years but allowed to continue to work as a consultant histopathologist - it also became apparent that Dr Williams had known about Harry's infection since February 1998 but did not tell lawyers in the case and justified this by claiming that he thought the infection was post mortem contamination.)
Later a written report was presented by Justice Kay which dealt with the evidence of Professor Meadows...
."…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.”Whilst the laboratory results might explain the death of Harry they do not of course explain the death of Christopher but made the conviction unsafe.
Professor Meadow's (pic) statistics were never challenged by the gilded mind of Julian Bevan, QC - which it was his duty to challenge - he didn't , through ignorance, torpidity, whoknows? His silence on the matter could reasonably be interpreted by the Jury as acceptance of the truth of Meadow's false statement. We have an adversarial system , for good or ill, and Bevan and his team failed in his job of obtaining opinion (which was not difficult to find) to contradict his amateur statistical claims. It helped to seal Sally Clark's fate.
Curiously the supporters of Sally Clark have conducted a ceaseless and vurulent campaign (almost a witchunt) against Professor Meadow's through the GMC and the Courts - there hasn't been a whisper about Sally Clark's incompetent lawyers. Meadow's has the support of the vast bulk of his professional colleagues, he has advanced the knowledge and understanding of why parents, especially mothers killed their babies.
The matter however has however not been allowed to rest there .... 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, he was a colleague of Professor Meadow. He prepared a report which he submitted to the Police on the basis of seeing the programme, stating that Steven Clark, the father, had been involved in the death of his 2 children. This bizarre allegation which he refused to retract, and was repeated to the GMC Professional Conduct Committee was judged on June 5th 2004 by the General Medical Council , they ruled that Prof Southall acted in a manner that was “inappropriate”, “irresponsible” and “misleading” in compiling a report outlining his accusations and concerns.
Subsequently on August 7th he was found found guilty of serious professional misconduct after accusing solicitor Sally Clark's husband of murdering their children.
It is one of the many mysterious aspects of this case, that Mr Clark has never sued Profesor Southall, for what is undoubtedly a gross and serious libel.
For those interested in informing thermselves further about this case should read the partial (as distinct from impartial) account of the trial by a childhood friend of Sally Clark and her family, and solicitor John Batt which Sally Clark helped to write - although it is unclear where Batt ends and Clark begins in the narrative.
As the only published account of the whole trial this book is invaluable to understanding the case of Sally Clark and her troubled life - in which the actions and decisions of powerful "professional" men have played such an important and tragic part.
Stolen Innocence: The Story of Sally Clark by John Batt, Ebury Press 2004 ISBN 0091900700 336 pps.
A useful review is here and a review in the BMJ, with an interesting range of highly informed comment here
Press enquiries should be made to Sue Stapely, Quiller Consultants T: 020 7233 9444 M: 07885 798833 who have handled the publicity machine since before the original