At least half of all parents tried over shaken baby syndrome have been wrongly convicted, expert warns

Mail Online

United Kingdom

By Angela Levin
Last updated at 6:13 PM on 1st May 2011

It is a case that haunts Dr Waney Squier and one any parent will find deeply distressing.

Eleven years ago, Lorraine Harris stood trial at Nottingham Crown Court charged with manslaughter. Although described as a woman of good character and a careful and caring mother, she was accused of shaking her four-month-old baby Patrick to death two years earlier.

Neuropathologist Dr Squier wrote a report for the prosecution saying that the child was the victim of shaken baby syndrome (SBS).

Lorraine, who vehemently protested her innocence, was convicted and jailed for three years.

Her punishment was not limited to incarceration, as tragic consequences rippled out from Patrick’s death. Lorraine wasn’t allowed to go to his funeral; a baby she gave birth to as she was starting her sentence was taken away for adoption; her partner left her and both her parents died while she was in prison. Her life fell apart.

By the time Lorraine’s appeal was heard in 2005, Dr Squier had become convinced the criteria she had used to define whether SBS had taken place were wrong. In a complete U-turn, she now appeared as an expert witness for the defence. Lorraine’s conviction was quashed.

It is difficult to imagine Lorraine’s feelings as she digested this news. Relief, perhaps, but the occasion could hardly be described as joyous. One of her children had died and she had not been allowed to grieve. Another child had been taken from her. And she would possibly never be free from the taint of the original conviction.

‘Her conviction was overturned but it was a hollow victory because her life had been completely devastated,’ says Dr Squier, who had helped right a wrong but could not erase the pain it had caused.

‘I did and sometimes still do feel terrible about what happened.

‘I now believe that half or even more of those who have been brought to trial in the past for SBS have been wrongly convicted. It is a frightening thought.’

It is indeed, and it is an extraordinary claim but one that should be taken seriously. Dr Squier, 63, is the most experienced paediatric neuropathologist in the country. She has spent 30 years researching baby brains and has a solid international reputation.

She has appeared countless times in court as an expert witness in cases of SBS, when a child is said to have been shaken so violently that it results in brain injury or death.

You would imagine that when such an eminent scientist says recent scientific developments show that, in the past, she and others have been wrong about SBS, she would be listened to.

Instead Dr Squier has been on the receiving end of vicious attacks by some doctors, lawyers and police officers who do not like her views. She has even been referred to as a supporter of child abusers.

‘Why would I want to do that?’ she asks.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.