“One sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder until proved otherwise”.
This was the infamous verdict of Sir Roy Meadow, the paediatrician and former expert witness. Angela Canning was jailed for life in April 2002 for the murder of seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999. She denied this, claiming that the boys were victims of cot death, due to a genetic defect.
‘Meadow’s Law’ turned on its head the presumption of innocence. It created an impossible duty on the defendant to come up with a medical explanation as to why her children had died. The simple horrible fact is that there is no medical explanation for why some children die of “cot death”. The fact that neither Angela nor the medical experts could provide any explanation as regards the cot deaths should not of itself have meant that murder was the only option left. Meadow’s reputation and evidence however created an impression that his comments were gospel. They were not. His expert evidence condemned Angela to almost two years in prison.
This remarkable autobiography (co-written with journalist Megan Lloyd Davies) tells that story. The tale of a normal simple unremarkable mother whose life is traumatised after the death of three children within ten years to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death). When her third child Matthew dies sympathy turns to suspicion. The police turned her loss and depression into something more, something more sinister and perverse. She is subsequently charged with murder; convicted and for the next two years imprisoned. She is labelled a child murderer; spat on; mentally abused and assaulted.
Whilst this is clearly not a literary masterpiece it is a heart-wrenching and honest account of Angela surviving not only the loss of her children but the ensuing implosion of her life. This is a very personal and lonely story. It shows a family, Angela, her husband Terry and their daughter Jade trying to survive together as a family. Being split up and then reunited. It provides an insight into how innocent law-abiding people are thrust into the criminal justice system and where that system fails them. But perhaps with some pathos the most original part of their story is the ending. As a reader we form that inevitable presumption that because Angela’s conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal the ending would be one of happiness. It is not. Angela, Terry and Jade are now involved in their biggest struggle - to rebuild a normal family life that has been devastated and shattered to its very core.
Against All Odds - A mother’s fight to prove her innocence by Angela Canning and Megan Lloyd Davies is published by Time Warner Books £16.99 hardback ISBN: 0-316-73304-0. Available in all good bookshops.