British Study Confirms that Multiple SIDS Deaths Not So Unusual

This site frequently mentions cases where parents or others kill children and escape with ridiculously lenient sentences. But there is another sort of injustice, and that is where overzealous officials use pseudoscientific nonsense to create a hysteria that convicts people of crimes that they did not commit.

Such a wave of hysteria hit the United Kingdom in the late 1990s when a number of women were convicted of multiple homicides in deaths that the defense claimed were due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Rather than just relying on the physical evidence of autopsies, etc., prosecutors also pulled in alleged experts like Dr. Roy Meadow who testified that the odds of a couple having more than one child die from SIDS was astronomically low.

For example, Sally Clark was convicted of murdering her 11-week old son Christopher in 1996 and her eight-week old son Harry in 1998. Clark’s defense was that the children died from SIDS. But Meadow testified at her trial that the odds of the two boys dying from SIDS was “one in 73 million.” Meadow provided similar testimony at the murder trials of other women who had more than one child death.

But Meadow’s claim was pure speculation backed up by no evidence. As the Royal Statistical Society noted in a press release it issued about Meadow’s claim,

In the recent highly-publicised case of R v. Sally Clark, a medical expert witness drew on published studies to obtain a figure for the frequency of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, or “cot death”) in families having some of the characteristics of the defendant’s family. He went on to square this figure to obtain a value of 1 in 73 million for the frequency of two cases of SIDS in such a family.

“This approach is, in general, statistically invalid. It would only be valid if SIDS cases arose independently within families, an assumption that would need to be justified empirically. Not only was no such empirical justification provided in the case, but there are very strong a priori reasons for supposing that the assumption will be false. There may well be unknown genetic or environmental factors that predispose families to SIDS, so that a second case within the family becomes much more likely.

The well-publicised figure of 1 in 73 million thus has no statistical basis. Its use cannot reasonably be justified as a “ballpark” figure because the error involved is likely to be very large, and in one particular direction. The true frequency of families with two cases of SIDS may be very much less incriminating than the figure presented to the jury at trial.

“Aside from its invalidity, figures such as the 1 in 73 million are very easily misinterpreted. Some press reports at the time stated that this was the chance that the deaths of Sally Clark’s two children were accidental. This (mis-)interpretation is a serious error of logic known as the Prosecutor’s Fallacy. The jury needs to weigh up two competing explanations for the babies’ deaths: SIDS or murder. Two deaths by SIDS or two murders are each quite unlikely, but one has apparently happened in this case. What matters is the relative likelihood of the deaths under each explanation, not just how unlikely they are under one explanation (in this case SIDS, according to the evidence as presented).

It turned out that the odds were actually closer to 1 in 100.

In fact, in December the results of the largest study of second-infant deaths was published and found that a) second-infant deaths are not that rare, and b) in 80 percent of cases, second-infant deaths were due to natural causes rather than homicide.

Published in the Lancet, research by Professor Robert Carpenter, studied all 6,373 families who had lost an infant due to SIDS and the enrolled in a program designed to support them with their next child.

Of those 6,373 families, Carpenter’s research found that 57 of the second-infants died. It found that nine deaths were inevitable, including infants born with severe birth defects, and 48 were unexpected deaths.

After interviewing the families and checking autopsy records, 40 of the unexpected deaths were due to natural causes, while 6 were due to probably homicides.

Carpenter was quoted by the Scotsman as saying,

Our data suggest that second deaths are not rare and that the majority — 80-90 percent — are natural. Families who have experienced three unexpected deaths also occur.

. . .

Consequently, although child abuse is not uncommon, from the best available data we believe that the occurrence of a second or third sudden unexpected death in infancy within a family, although relatively rare, is in most cases from natural causes.

Some of the women convicted based, in part, on the testimony of Meadows have had their convictions overturned, but prosecutors bizarrely say they still have faith in Meadows’ testimony. Sound science is clearly not on their agenda.


Royal Statistical Society concerned by issues raised in Sally Clark case. Press Release, Royal Statistical Society, October 23, 2001.

Baby-death study finds natural causes evidence. Lyndsay Moss, The Scotsman, December 31 ,2004.

Profile: Sir Roy Meadow. The BBC, April 11, 2005.

Doubt cast on baby killer case. The BBC, July 15, 2001.

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One thought on “British Study Confirms that Multiple SIDS Deaths Not So Unusual”

  1. Seems ironic that David Southall, the professor who accused Sally
    Clark’s husband of murdering his child whilst he was away from
    home, has been involved with smothering experimentation WITHOUT

    EDM 2767


    That this House notes that according to the report written by
    Professor David Hull for North Staffordshire Trust about the work
    of Professor David Southall in the report written for the
    University Hospital of North Staffordshire by Professor McLeish and
    Dr Durbin, Professor McLeish said that Professor Southall `pursued
    multiple clinical research studies that were poorly designed and
    therefore were unlikely to produce new knowledge of worth. More
    worryingly he appears to have had insufficient regard for the
    ethical standards that should surround all clinical studies in
    babies’; believes that such comments are important comments that
    require proper consideration; is surprised that the University
    Hospital of North Staffordshire is unable to find a copy of this
    report; calls for the hospital to find a copy of this report and
    publish its contents; and further calls for an independent judicial
    or Parliamentary inquiry into the research and clinical activities
    of Professor David Southall, the failure of the regulatory system
    to prevent unethical experiments on babies managed by Professor
    Southall and the misuse of child protection and judicial procedures
    both to prevent parents from raising complaints about his research
    and procure children for his research.,,1859611,00.html

    Monday August 28, 2006

    Detectives have stepped up an investigation into claims that the
    leading paediatrician David Southall left a child brain damaged as
    a result of a controversial breathing experiment 15 years ago, the
    Guardian has learned.

    South Wales police have broadened their inquiry into an allegation
    that Professor Southall assaulted the boy by carrying out the test
    and are asking dozens of parents whose children may have come into
    contact with the paediatrician over the years to come forward if
    their child suffered any injuries as a result of his treatment.
    Professor Southall has denied that his treatment has harmed any

    In a letter to parents last week, Detective Inspector Chris
    Mullane, of the force’s child protection unit, said further
    inquiries could be opened as a result of the responses from
    parents. The letter says police are investigating an allegation of
    assault on a boy that may have occurred while he was undergoing
    treatment by Prof Southall at the University Hospital of Wales. It
    asks parents: “Has your child been treated directly or indirectly
    by Professor Southall … Did your child suffer any injuries or
    adverse effects from that treatment … Have you reported this
    matter to the police or any other body?”

    The investigation began after the parents of Ben McLean alleged
    that he had been left brain damaged by Prof Southall’s experiments
    at the University Hospital of Wales in 1991.

    The child’s mother, Davina McLean, believes that without their
    informed consent, her five-year-old son was given carbon dioxide to
    breathe and his airway was occluded during a sleep study. She
    claims that she and her husband were forced to take part in the
    study after Prof Southall said they were suffering from
    Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, and warned that unless they allowed
    Ben to take part he would be taken into care. Prof Southall has
    also denied these claims.

    When Ben left hospital he was placed in foster care, but a year
    later a court found the McLeans had not harmed their child. Ben,
    now 20, lives with his parents and has severe speech and learning
    difficulties. Mrs McLean told the Guardian: “We are pleased that
    other parents out there who may have concerns are being contacted.
    All we want is justice for our son.”

    Prof Southall has attracted praise and controversy during his long
    career. Last year he was found guilty of serious professional
    misconduct and banned from child protection work for three years
    after wrongly accusing the husband of Sally Clark of killing their
    baby sons.

    South Wales Police Heddlu De Cymru

    Working with the Community Cydweithio Gyda’r Gymuned

    Public Protection Unit
    Central Police Station
    King Edward VII Avenue
    Cathays Park
    CF10 3NN

    Telephone (029) 20527272

    10th August 2006


    South Wales Police are currently investigating an allegation of
    assault on a young boy that may have occurred whilst undergoing
    treatment by Professor David Southall at the University Hospital of

    I have been given your details by Mr William BACHE, Solicitor, who
    assures me that he has your authority for me to make contact with

    I would be obliged if I could be provided with certain replies to
    the below questions. I must emphasise that South Wales Police are
    not carrying out an enquiry into Professor Southall, but are
    investigating one allegation of assault carried out in our force
    area. It may well transpire that further enquiries are carried out
    in the future if document dictate that to be the appropriate course
    of action. Please reply via email if you wish or I have enclosed a
    S.A.E.for your convenience.

    1. Has your child been treated directly or indirectly by Professor Southall.
    2. If yes please outline the document of that treatment.
    3. Did your child suffer any injuries or adverse effects from that
    4. Have you reported this matter to the Police or any other body
    such as the GMC (please specify).
    5. If you reported the matter to the police
    i) which force
    ii) when
    iii) have you details of an investigating officer or any other
    means of reference
    iv) Result of the Police investigation

    My apologies for being brief and to the point, but I am sure you
    appreciate the complexities of this enquiry.

    Yours faithfully

    Chris Mullane


    Scandal of ‘smothered’ babies in cot death test
    Police investigate experiments on little children with lung problems


    SECRET hospital cot death experiments in which doctors planned deliberately
    to `smother’ babies are being investigated by police.

    The research project, devised by some of Britain’s leading child
    envisaged using tiny infants with severe breathing difficulties.

    The babies’ faces were to be covered with a mask attached to a breathing
    machine and their mouths `smothered’ for up to 10 seconds on five occasions.

    It is not clear whether the scheme was ever fully carried out, but
    it appears that some parts did take place.

    The controversial procedure, approved by an ethics committee, was
    regarded as safe. The infants would be secretly monitored by
    doctors as they got older. If they died of unrelated illness,
    pieces of their lungs, brains, livers, and hearts would be sent to
    a pathologist in Sheffield Children’s
    Hospital for analysis and comparison with the project data.

    The study was designed to help discover whether cot death was
    caused by breathing and heart abnormalities and involved children
    across the country.

    In a highly unusual move, doctors decided they would not seek
    written consent from parents because they did not want to cause

    The study, named the Sudden Infant Death Project, was planned to be
    carried out at three hospitals: Rotherham District General, the
    Doncaster Royal Infirmary and the Barnsley District Hospital during
    the late Eighties and early Nineties.

    A spokesperson for the Rotherham District General Hospital said:
    “Our consultant has said that the study did go ahead so I’m pretty
    sure it did.”

    A spokeswoman for the Doncaster Royal Infirmary said it could not
    comment on the matter “because it is subject of a police inquiry”.

    The Daily Express has evidence the experiment could also have been
    conducted at other hospitals. Two sets of parents believe their
    children were brain damaged after being put into similar

    The two children, whose brains were developing normally, now have
    speech and co-ordination problems and severe learning difficulties.

    The parents have not been able to find out what happened while
    their children were in hospital.

    British Medical Journal paper recording the experimentation in smothering.

    What higher authority to confirm this evil practice?

    or condensed URL here


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