Richard Barr Writer (and lawyer)

Re-examine the possibilities

In December 2000 I wrote an editorial in the sj about solicitor Sally Clark who had been convicted of killing her two young sons, even though by the end of the trial not one of the five prosecution experts was able to state categorically that either death was not due to natural causes.

Sally Clark remains in prison despite the sustained efforts of a band of concerned lawyers and others. She has maintained from the outset that she did not harm either of her boys.

Last week saw history repeat itself. Angela Cannings was convicted of murdering her sons Jason and Matthew. Once again the evidence against her was very thin. The children bore no outward signs of injury, and medical experts were unable to find clear proof of suffocation.

What appears to have swayed both juries is that it appeared to be vanishingly unlikely that two children could have died from cot death in one family. It is also vanishingly unlikely that any one person will win the national lottery but people win every week.

But there is more. The Cannings children were found to have staphylococcus infection after their death, as were Sally’s boys. Although this bacterium exists on the skin and noses of healthy people, it can cause death. It is the same bacterium which causes toxic shock syndrome in menstruating women. In 5% of those cases the outcome is fatal. It is easy to imagine how much more vulnerable to the bacterium young children would be.

Little publicity has been given to the fact that children from both families died within a short time of receiving a whooping cough vaccine. Sally’s son Harry had received his DPT (Diphtheria Pertussis Tetanus) vaccine just hours before he died. Two of Angela’s children died within 24 hours of receiving their vaccination. Curiously the prosecution did not proceed against her for the murder of one of those children (Gemma). Could the prosecution have made the decision on the basis that the coincidence of two deaths in one family immediately after vaccination might encourage a jury to the view that the children did not die at the hand of their mother?

Disturbing evidence has recently been published in the United States which claims to establish a causal relationship between these vaccines and infant death. In the USA they have changed over to using a less toxic form of the vaccine, so it is possible to make a “before and after” comparison with the 2 types of vaccine from the Vaccine Adverse Reaction Database. The authors assert that the old (whole cell) vaccine is associated with 3 ½ times as many deaths as the newer version and 76 times as many deaths when compared with Diphtheria-Tetanus vaccine alone.

In Sally Clark’s website ( she makes the point that lightning can strike twice.

Only Sally and Angela know for certain whether they harmed their children but in the minds of many who are familiar with the cases there remains the terrifying possibility that both women are innocent, and that the deaths were caused by a familial predisposition to illness which rendered them vulnerable to infections or vaccinations which other children would have taken in their stride – in effect a double lightning strike, which is not the same as murder.

Published in Solicitors Journal 26 April 2002