Release Date: 10th January 2022
From: Clive Stafford Smith, Founder & Director of 3DC
Subject: Preliminary Study of UK Shaken Baby Syndrome cases raises serious concerns
Download the study report in Word here
Download the study report as .pdf here
“The UK legal system clings on to a false science and condemns those who question it.”
Today, with the 25th anniversary of the notorious case of Louise Woodward, the nanny convicted of supposedly “shaking” the infant Matthew Eappen to death in Massachussetts in 1997, human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and the non-profit 3DCentre (3dc.org.uk) releases a ground-breaking study into the UK handling of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) cases.
While the 25th Anniversary of the Louise Woodward case has prompted soul searching among prosecution experts in the US – where the theory behind SBS has been largely repudiated – the same is not true for the UK. There are still roughly 100 SBS cases in Britain each year where parents lose their children and caregivers go to prison. When a lead expert on SBS, Dr Waney Squier, was prompted by evolving science to change her view on SBS, police, judges and the General Medical Council chastised her and she was initially struck off for supposedly overreaching her expertise.
This has sent a chill through the UK medical community and it is now almost impossible to persuade experts to dispute the dubious theory behind SBS.
The 3DC report is a preliminary evaluation of the published SBS cases in the last two decades (preliminary, because the large majority of the SBS cases in criminal and family court are not published). The initial findings are a cause of great concern. The lawyers involved in such cases reflect little expertise: An overwhelming majority of the legal players appear to have little significant expertise in SBS. 69% of the named judges, 86% of the defence barristers and 88% of the prosecution barristers appear in just one case covered by the study. The case decisions suggest strong cultural biases, with all of the identified SBS case judges being white, 82% male, and 88.9% privately educated.
The legal players rely on a small, and seemingly biased, pool of medical witnesses. Just four men appear 81 times in the decisions, representing nearly half (48.5%) of all the cases. There were many possible alternative causes of a child’s injury or death posited in the cases, raising the concern that – as with the US – the medical professionals have reached erroneous conclusions that have in turn made a false conviction inevitable.
“I have been involved in a number of death penalty cases in the US where there has been an allegation that an infant was shaken, and the US is slowly coming to the conclusion that the science doesn’t stack up,” said Clive Stafford Smith, human rights lawyer and director of the 3DCentre. “Unfortunately the UK legal system clings on to a false science and condemns those who question it. It is akin to the Vatican punishing Galileo for insisting that the Sun did not revolve around the Earth.”
“It is shocking so early in my legal career for me to see how misguided the law can be,” said Bristol law student and 3DC apprentice Emily Girvan-Dutton. “But it makes me all the more intent on righting these wrongs.
The case of Louise Woodward (1997)
Louise Woodward was initially convicted of murder, and sentenced to mandatory life in prison, for the tragic death of young Matthew in 1997. The judge reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter and she was released for time served. None of the jurors, interviewed after trial, believed she had intended Matthew’s death and the prosecution case rested substantially on medical testimony that the “triad” findings of retinal hemorrhages, subdural hematoma (bleeding on the brain) and cerebral oedema (swelling of the brain) was indicative of violent shaking.