Mother acquitted over too much doubt in 'shaken baby' expert evidence

The Crown Prosecution Service is reported to be studying the possible implications of a decision by an Old Bailey judge that there was too much doubt over conflicting medical evidence in a case in which a mother twice stood trial accused of shaking her eight-month-old son to death.

Describing her as a "caring, dutiful wife and loving mother", Judge Timothy Pontius ordered jurors to acquit twenty-seven year old Fatima Miah of manslaughter.

Mr Justice Pontius said: "It is my firm view that, unusually, there is no evidence upon which this jury could find, to the extent they feel sure, that the expert opinion supporting the prosecution allegation of non-accidental death is to be preferred."

At the heart of the case was, what prosecution medical experts described, as the presence of a "triad" of three specific injuries: subdural haemorrhage (bleeding on the brain), retinal haemorrhage (bleeding in the eye), and encephalopathy (swelling of brain tissue). This "triad" would normally, they told the Court, be used to provide "a strong pointer towards a conclusion that those injuries were not accidentally caused".

But defence experts said that the subdural haemorrhage was unlikely to have been from shaking. One said that it may have been the result of a loss of oxygen caused by choking on vomit.

Lawyers believe the case could have implications for the role of expert medical evidence in similar prosecutions.

It may also influence proposals by the Law Commission to allow judges to take a first look at conflicting expert evidence in a pre-trial process to decide whether the experts should be called at Trial.

Fatima Miah, a part-time dental receptionist, had faced two trials following the death of her son Anas in May 2007.

The Court heard that, on the day her baby died, an ambulance was called to the flat. He was found on the floor, not breathing, and his heart stopped for 40 minutes. She told police that he had collapsed after falling off the sofa.

Ms Miah spent six weeks in custody before being released on bail to face her first trial at the Old Bailey in November last year. Then, the murder charge was thrown out by the trial judge and jurors were unable to agree a manslaughter verdict.

Now, after hearing both the prosecution and defence cases in the second trial, the judge has acquitted her of manslaughter.

She has always maintained her innocence, denying, in court, that she was under pressure at the time of his death because long hours at work meant that her husband could not help with childcare.

She also denied prosecution claims that she had shaken the boy in a fit of temper, leaving him with the brain injury from which he died.

Edward Brown QC, prosecuting, said: "This case has been brought to the attention of the very highest level of the Crown Prosecution Service and we have to consider the nature of the ruling. We will have also to decide whether the ruling has any general application because there are cases up and down the country either pending or being heard or which have been heard."


source society of expert witness

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 July 2010 11:04