47 Med. Sci. & L. 2 (2007)

handle is hein.journals/mdsclw47 and id is 1 raw text is: 

2  Med. Sci. Law (2007) Vol. 47, No. 1

Statistics, Science and the Law

Both our civil and our criminal courts routi-
nely assess probabilities before reaching a
conclusion in the case before them, although
the standard of proof differs as between the
two types of court. With the advent of DNA
profiling, with 'random-match profiling' pro-
ducing probabilities often exceeding a million
to one, statistics now feature in court cases
much  more  frequently than in the past. As
recent cases have shown, the risk of the figures
being misunderstood by juries (and by judges)
has  increased  correspondingly.  The  four
articles which follow discuss and  highlight

the dangers, and they express differing views
as to whether statisticians should be permitted
to give evidence commenting upon  the statis-
tics. They were first published in the Royal
Statistical Society's magazine Significance.
Usually we  only publish original articles in
the journal, but the importance of the subject
and the absorbing content of the articles has
persuaded  us to make   an exception in the
belief that they will be of considerable interest
to our readers.

            His Honour Judge  I. Karsten, QC
 Legal Editor, Medicine, Science and the Law

Reflections on the cot death cases

Ray  Hill
Professor of Mathematics, the University of Salford, Lancashire

Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Trupti Patel not
only suffered the tragic sudden deaths of two or more
babies. They were then accused, and in the first two
cases convicted, of their murder. The misuse of
statistics at Sally Clark's trial had profound con-
sequences, especially for her, but also for the
subsequent cases. Ray Hill reflects on the statistical
issues involved.

The  cases of Clark, Cannings and Patel had
many   common   features. In each case, the
mother  was acknowledged  as being a caring
parent, with no history of child abuse. In each
case, the husband, family and friends were all
fully supportive and convinced of the mother's
innocence. In each case, the medical evidence
against the mother was decidedly slim. And, in
each  case, a key  prosecution witness  was
Professor Sir Roy Meadow.
  Professor Meadow   is an  eminent  British

paediatrician and an advocate of the dictum,
known  in Britain as 'Meadow's law'; that 'one
cot death  is a tragedy, two  cot deaths  is
suspicious and, until the contrary is proved,
three cot deaths is murder'. There  is little
doubt that such thinking played a part in the
charging of Clark, Cannings and Patel. In each
case, the first death was recorded as natural
and it appears to have been  the mere  coin-
cidence of a second or third death that served
as the trigger for a criminal investigation. Let
us consider the three cases in more detail.

Sally Clark, a solicitor from Cheshire, lost her
first baby, Christopher, in 1996. There was
evidence of a respiratory infection and the
death was  recorded as natural. In 1998, the
Clarks' second  child, Harry, died at eight

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