Sally Clark

In 1996, when her first child, Christopher was born, Sally Clark was living in Wilmslow, a town in northern England near the city of Manchester. Both she and her husband, Stephen, were successful lawyers. Sally was born and grew up in the south of England. In 1988, after graduating from university, she went to work in London. She met Steve there, and they got married in 1990. In 1993, they moved north to Manchester. They felt that there they would be able to afford a house that would be big enough to raise a family in. They found good jobs and, in 1995, they bought a luxurious house in Wilmslow.

Their first child, Christopher, was born in September, 1996. When he was twelve weeks old, his parents took him to London to show him to their friends. While they were there, Christopher had a bad nosebleed. When the family returned to Wilmslow, Sally told her doctor what had happened, and he told her not to worry about it.

A few days later, on December 13, Stephen was having a Christmas dinner with his colleagues. Sally was at home with Christopher. She fed him at 7:30 and then put him to bed. Then, around 9:15, she went to have a cup of tea. When she returned, ten minutes later, Christopher had turned grey. She immediately phoned for help. An ambulance arrived two minutes later. The medics tried to resuscitate Christopher, but he was dead.

As usual, when an apparently healthy baby suddenly dies, a post-mortem examination was done. The examination was done by Dr Alan Williams, a government pathologist. He concluded that Christopher had died of a lung infection. Dr Williams took some “samples” of parts of Christopher’s body and preserved them.

After Christopher’s death, Sally was depressed. She was also lonely because she still missed her friends and family in southern England. Sometimes, to escape her unhappiness, she drank too much liquor. And she started going to a psychiatrist.

Sally and Stephen’s second son, Harry, was born in November, 1997. He was three weeks premature but he was strong. On January 26, 1998, when Harry was eight weeks old, Sally went shopping in the morning and took Harry with her. In the afternoon, she took him to the doctor for some vaccinations. Sally had a check-up too. The doctor who examined her later said that she had found no problems and that Sally had been cheerful.

That evening, around 8:00, Steve was in the kitchen getting some food ready for Harry. Suddenly he heard Sally screaming upstairs. Harry had collapsed in his bouncy chair and turned blue. Sally phoned for help. Steve tried frantically to resuscitate Harry. The ambulance arrived nine minutes later, but it was too late. Harry was dead.

Again, the post-mortem examination was done by Alan Williams. He found injuries to Harry’s eyes, brain and ribs. He said that Harry had died because he had been shaken violently. He also looked again at the samples he had taken from Christopher’s body and found small amounts of blood in Christopher’s lungs. He said he had changed his mind and now believed that he had been smothered. On February 23, early in the morning, six police officers arrived at Sally and Stephen’s and arrested them on suspicion of murdering their children. Stephen was absolved, but, Sally was later charged with murder.

At Sally’s trial, the prosecution presented medical evidence: the injuries found on Harry’s body and the blood in Christopher’s lungs. The defence replied that Harry’s ‘injuries’ had occurred during the post-mortem examination, and that the blood in Christopher’s lungs was the result of his nosebleed. Both the prosecution and the defence called on medical experts. One said it was certain that Sally was responsible for the deaths; one said it was certain that she was not responsible. The others all said the cause of death was uncertain.

The prosecution also presented circumstantial evidence: Sally was a drinker; she had been depressed. They said she resented her children because they interfered with her career. The defence admitted that Sally had sometimes been unhappy, but they brought forward witnesses, including doctors and medical workers. who testified that Sally had been a cheerful, affectionate, hard-working mother. They emphasized that both babies had been happy and showed no signs of abuse.

The prosecution also called on a famous pediatrician, Sir Roy Meadow. He produced a statistic which apparently had a big impact on the jury. He said that scientific research proved that the chances of two babies dying naturally in a family like Sally’s were 75-million to one. This, he said, showed she was a murderer.

When the trial was over, in November 1999, the jury voted 10-2 in favour of conviction. Sally was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In October, 2000, Sally appealed. Her lawyers argued that she had been convicted because the jury had been influenced by Sir Roy’s statistic. They showed Sir Roy was mistaken. They argued convincingly that it was far more likely than Sir Roy had claimed for two babies to die as Christopher and Harry had. The Appeal Court judge agreed that Sir Roy was mistaken and that he had misled the jury, but he insisted that that statistic had not been very important and that Sally would have been found guilty even if Sir Roy had not testified. The conviction was upheld and Sally remained in prison.

In 2001, Steve obtained a thousand pages of medical notes about his two sons. He searched through them and found a report on tests that had been done on Harry after he died. For some reason, Alan Williams had kept the results of the tests secret. The tests showed that, Harry had been suffering from a serious bacterial infection. Because of this new evidence, Sally was allowed to appeal again. This time she won. The court agreed that Christopher and Harry had died because they were ill, not because they had been abused. Sally was freed in February 2003, after more than three years in prison.

- information from: The Telegraph (UK), 01.05.11; The Observer, (UK) 01.08.15 (John Sweeney and Bill Law); Legal Business, (UK) 01.11 (Matthew Rushton)The Guardian (UK) 03.01.29; The Observer, 03.02.02 (John Sweeney); The Observer, 03.06.15 (John Sweeney); (Frank Lockyer);