Guardian June 14, 2003
obsession with child deaths has robbed me of my little girl too
SUSAN BRIERLEY can remember, as if it were yesterday, the fateful afternoon
Sir Roy Meadow came to visit her at her Richmond home almost three years
She had lost her first two children to cot death and having given birth to
her third child, a beautiful baby daughter, here was this expert, sent to
assess her for something called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
"He arrived at my door, this grandfatherly person, a distinguished professor
with an air of authority and a gentle touch," recalls Susan, 40, a senior
nurse and divorced mother. "He spoke to me for a couple of hours in the most
warm and kindly way. He assured me there was nothing to worry about, that I
was fine and that I could feel safe. "And then wham! I got his report a few
weeks later. I couldn't believe that the same person had written it.
I lost my little Chloe to social services in a secret family court hearing.
Meadow was the only expert called to give evidence. He claimed that it was
probable I had murdered my son and first daughter when they were just a few
months old and that Chloe might be next.
"It was all untrue but I had no way of proving it. Later I would see the
similarities between my case and Sally Clark's but I was never given the
dignity of a criminal trial where I could defend myself properly.
"I don't know where Chloe is now, all I know is that she would be three this
week," says Susan, whose name has been changed for legal reasons. My life is
in pieces. I can no longer even hold down a job. I have been told that if I
have another child it will be taken away as well."
HUNDREDS of mothers across Britain have received similar visits from
Professor Meadow in the past 25 years, and hundreds more have been the
subject of his reports without ever seeing him, reports for which he was
paid thousands of pounds in expert fees and which led to them also losing
their children at closed-door hearings.
In the wake of this week's Trupti Patel verdict, Meadow, controversial star
witness for the prosecution in both the Patel and Clark cases, does not want
to discuss his central role in all these cases and the mothers - believed to
number six - currently languishing in prison as a result of his singular
"expert" testimony that they "probably" killed their babies.
But who is Sir Roy Meadow?
And how did he come to command such power?
Meadow, who was 70 on Monday, burst to world prominence in 1977 when he
wrote a paper in the Lancet entitled Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: The
Hinterlands of Child Abuse. Born in 1933 to Doris Meadow, the wife of a
Wigan accountant, Samuel, Meadow was educated at Wigan Grammar School and
Worcester College, Oxford, emerging with a BA Honours in Physiology in 1957
After qualifying as a paediatrician, he became a professor and paediatrician
at St James University Hospital, Leeds, and later rose to head of department
At the age of 27 he married Gillian Margaret Maclennan, the daughter of the
British Ambassador to Ireland, Sir Ian Maclennan. They had two children, a
son, Julian, and a daughter, Anna, now 40 and 38, respectively. They
divorced in 1974 and he married Marianne Jane Harvey four years later.
In the Lancet paper, Meadow describes a condition where parents attempt to
harm their children in order to draw attention to their own psychological
condition, calling it "a sort of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy" (MSbP).
Unlike Munchausen Syndrome, where a depressed parent - usually a mother - is
said to harm herself as a cry for help, in MSbP a similarly-minded mother is
said to cause harm to her children.
Meadow wrote of two patients whose symptoms had defied medical explanation.
In the first case, the mother had inserted her own blood into her child's
urine sample. In the second, he said the mother had poisoned her toddler
with excessive doses of salt, resulting in death.
The Lancet article provoked an avalanche of letters from other
paediatricians. Meadow collected their cases and wrote a follow-up paper in
1982. He was soon employed by everyone from social services to crown
prosecution and family court prosecutors. In the past, establishing "motive"
had been a problem for the prosecution in cot death cases. But now, all that
was required was for Meadow to diagnose the mother as suffering from MSbP.
The problem was compounded because in family courts, Meadow was often the
only expert called to give evidence. The more mothers he diagnosed as
suffering from MSbP, the more his expertise spread, and the more testimonies
he was called to write.
He was invited to give conferences around the world and would regularly
comment to the press. "One cot death is a tragedy, two is suspicious, three
is murder," was one of his famous pronouncements.
THE bubble burst when Professor Meadow 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 hotly disputed by the Royal Statistical Society.
Earlier this year, Lord Howe, shadow spokesperson for health in the House of
Lords, stood up in the upper chamber and delivered a scathing attack on
Meadow. He called MSbP "one of the most pernicious and ill-founded theories
to have gained currency in childcare and social services over the past 10 to
15 years". "It is a theory without science," Lord Howe said. "There is no
body of peerreviewed research to underpin MSbP. It rests instead on the
assertions of its inventor and on a handful of case histories.
When challenged to produce his research papers to justify his original
findings, the inventor of MSbP stated, if you please, that he had destroyed
MSbP has deeply insinuated itself into the language and thinking of social
services and has become an all-purpose label for problem parents. A loving
but fussy mother who, on behalf of her sick child, badgers a GP to take her
concerns seriously, can suddenly find herself accused of abuse. Once she has
a label of MSbP pinned on her, it is very difficult to remove.
Other medical experts criticise Meadow for "fitting the evidence into a
diagnosis". In other words, he cherry-picks those facts which suit his
case - such as the fact that mothers have had bouts of depression - but
discards others that fit less well, such as that these mothers might never
have had any history of abuse .
Today, Sir Roy Meadow does not answer his phone and consistently refuses
interviews. The concern arises that the Patel and Clark cases are the tip of
the iceberg, that they may lift the lid on serial miscarriages of justice
that run, perhaps, into the hundreds.
But it will be too late to rescue Susan Brierley from the nightmare that her
life has become.
The Independent June 12, 2003
women to have verdicts reviewed
By Robert Verkaik,
Legal Affairs Correspondent
The murder convictions of at least six mothers are expected to be reviewed after yesterday's sudden acquittal of Trupti Patel. At least two of the cases likely to be reviewed relied on evidence from Sir Roy Meadow, a pathologist who also gave expert testimony in Mrs Patel's trial.
Sir Roy is a leading advocate of what some have called "Meadow's Law" that "one cot death is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder".
Professor Meadow said at the trial of Sally Clark, the solicitor
wrongly accused of killing her two babies, that the odds of two cot
deaths in an affluent, non-smoking family like the Clarks' were one
in 73 million, a claim disputed by the Royal Statistical Society.
The Court of Appeal will later hear the cases of Angela Cannings
and Donna Anthony, both convicted of killing their babies after Sir
Roy gave evidence at their trials.
Chris Cloke, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children, said: "The NSPCC wants to see systematic review and
analysis of all child deaths by teams made up of health experts,
police and social service professionals."
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