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Cot death confusion: explaining the unexplainable

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 11 August 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:347
  1. Trevor Jackson (
  1. BMJ

    Ever since solicitor Sally Clark was convicted in November 1999 of murdering two of her children, she has maintained her innocence. In the face of an initially hostile press, Clark's family stuck by her and insisted that the deaths of her two baby boys were cot deaths or instances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Gradually their campaign gathered momentum (it now has its own website,, and even when Clark lost her appeal against her conviction, last October, it was clear that this case was not going to go away.

    From the start, many people—including prominent doctors—had serious misgivings about the safety of the original verdict, particularly about one piece of evidence from a key prosecution witness, the paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow. These concerns have ensured that the Clark case, and the debate over what we know and don't know about cot death, has remained a media issue.

    In the past three months there have been several articles about Clark in which her transformation from media bête noire to media cause célèbre, the victim of a major miscarriage of justice, can be seen to be complete. On 6 May the Sunday Telegraph ran a detailed article titled “Against the odds,” in which it argued that much of the medical evidence brought against Clark was flawed. She was found guilty by a 10:2 majority verdict of murdering her first child, Christopher, in 1996 when he was 11 weeks old, and, just over a year later, her …

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