PCC clears Times comment piece on cot death jailings - Press Gazette

PCC clears Times comment piece on cot death jailings

The Press Complaints Commission has rejected a complaint by paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow about an article in The Times claiming his evidence at two trials had “led to the jailing of innocent people”.

The article, a comment piece by Camilla Cavendish entitled: ‘A moving response to our family justice campaign”, appeared in the paper on 17 July 2008.

Meadow is best known for his theory of “Munchausen syndrome by proxy” – where parents deliberately harm their children to gain attention and sympathy.

He was an expert witness at two trials, in 1999 and 2002, involving women suspected of murdering their children and claiming they died of cot death.

Sally Clark and Angela Cannings were both jailed, but later appealed and were found innocent and cleared of all charges.

Clark was accused of murdering her two sons. In the trial, Meadow claimed that the chances of two babies in the same family dying of cot death was one in 73 million.

It was, he added, as likely as an 80-1 horse winning the Grand National four years in a row.

This figure was described as “grossly misleading” by a judge during Clark’s second appeal hearing.

Cavendish wrote in her Times comment piece that Meadow had gone ‘beyond his remit’in offering statistics, because he was not a statistician.

She suggested that, as a result of his comments, he was partly responsible for the wrongful imprisonment of Clarke and Cannings.

Meadow made his complaint to the PCC under the accuracy clause, arguing that the newspaper could not justify its remarks.

The Times contended that the claims – which were a brief summary of Meadow’s role in the cases – were fair comment.

The paper said it had offered to publish a letter of defence from Meadow, but the offer was refused.

In its adjudication, the PCC concluded that Cavendish’s remarks about the case were not ‘inaccurate, misleading or distorted’and that the article was clearly distinguishable as an opinion piece.

The Commission said: ‘Her grounds for coming to this view were the judgments in the two appeals.

“Given that how [Meadow] presented statistics was undeniably a feature in the Clark appeal, [we] did not consider that there was any significant inaccuracy in characterising this as him going ‘beyond his remit’.

‘Similarly, it appeared that there were grounds in the second Clark appeal for the columnist to suggest that his evidence had ‘led to’ her jailing,’it added.