Dr. Waney Squier, a prominent neuropathologist, is haunted by a certain case. This case is one that any parent will find deeply distressing. Eleven years ago, a mother stood trial at Nottingham Crown Court charged with manslaughter. Even though the woman was described as a woman of good character and a careful and caring mother, she was still accused of shaking her four-month-old baby to death two years earlier.
Dr. Squier wrote a report for the prosecution saying that the child was the victim of shaken baby syndrome (SBS). The mother vehemently protested her innocence, but was convicted and jailed for three years.
The woman’s punishment only began with the incarceration. Tragic consequences rippled out from her baby boy’s death. She wasn’t allowed to go to his funeral; a baby she gave birthto 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. In short, a warden said, her life fell apart.
By the time her appeal was heard in 2005, the neuropathologist had become convinced the criteria she used to define whether SBS had taken place were, in fact, wrong. In a complete U-turn, she appeared as an expert witness for the defense. The mother’s conviction was overturned.
In this case, is the mother expected to feel relief? A doctor says that this mother could hardly be described as joyous. One of her children had died, after all, and she had not been allowed to even go to his funeral. She had a child taken from her. And the possibility was great that she would never be free from the taint of the original conviction no matter how wrong it was.
‘Her conviction was overturned but it was a hollow victory because her life had been completely devastated,’ says the doctor who helped right a wrong of birth injury but could not erase the pain of the past. “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.”
Courts in Nassau and Suffolk are looking at this case with interest.