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How valid is an expert witness?

18th March 2007

In the wake of the tragic death of Sally Clark, Times journalist Minette Marrin once again calls into question the kudos given to expert medical witnesses in UK trials.

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Describing Professor Sir Roy Meadow as ‘notorious’ for his part in Sally Clark’s trial and other similar cases, Ms Marrin recalls how he gave an opinion under oath that the probability of two natural and unexplained cot deaths in one family was 73 million to 1. Later the Royal Statistical Society proved that the odds were in fact closer to 200-1 and Professor Meadow was found guilty of serious professional misconduct and straying outside his remit of expertise by the General Medical Council. He was struck off the medical register but later re-instated – a decision Ms Marrin describes as “another blow for the Clarks.?

Ms Marrin also berates the Criminal Justice System for allowing vital evidence from Home Office pathologist Alan Williams to slip through the net. Mr Williams’ tests on one of Mrs Clark’s babies showed that he died of natural causes but neither Mrs Clark’s defence team nor the jury were shown this evidence.

Ms Marrin argues that “too much deference is paid to expert medical witnesses? and says that “every expert medical view in court should be corroborated by an independent expert, or thrown out.? Although the exact cause of Sally Clark’s death has not been made known, ‘a broken heart’ is being increasingly cited by journalists as an apt description of what caused her demise. As Ms Marrin concludes, Sally Clark died “because she could not recover from the terrible wrongs that had been done to her.?

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