Mother cleared of murdering her babies

Last updated at 16:56 11 April 2005

A mother who claimed she was wrongly convicted of killing her two children was dramatically freed from prison by the Court of Appeal today.

Donna Anthony, who was present in the dock at London's Law Courts, wiped away tears as three judges overturned her conviction.

Prosecution lawyers had indicated at an earlier hearing that they would not oppose an appeal by Anthony, 31, who was jailed for life in 1998 at Bristol Crown Court for murdering her 11-month-old daughter Jordan and four-month-old son Michael.

The case against her relied on evidence from paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow, whose evidence in other cases has been discredited.

Anthony, of Yeovil, Somerset, always claimed both children were victims of cot death and not smothering as alleged by the prosecution, but her original appeal in June 2000 was dismissed.

Lord Justice Judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Hallett and Mr Justice Leveson, ruled today that her convictions were "unsafe"

Lord Justice Judge said that statistical evidence given by the two most important medical experts called by the Crown was now "significantly undermined".

"In essence, the essential thrust of the Crown's case against the appellant at trial has been significantly undermined."

He said that the logical conclusion was that if the case was to have proceeded today, rather than in 1998, the medical evidence called on behalf of the Crown, looked at overall, would have seemed "less compelling" than it seemed at trial - while there would have been more persuasive expert medical evidence available to the defence.

He concluded that, notwithstanding disturbing features about the appellant's behaviour, if the unchallenged new evidence had been available at trial, the decision of the jury might well have been different.

Also, if the judgment in the Angela Cannings appeal had been available to the trial judge, he would have ensured that evidence given by the experts would have taken a different route and he would have summed up differently.


"In the circumstances, we are persuaded that the convictions are unsafe and should be quashed."

On the question of a new trial, the judge said that much of the critical evidence was still available and the fresh medical evidence could be put in the context of evidence extraneous to the case and analysed as a whole.

But the case was now an old one and it was many years since Jordan died and some years since Michael's death.

Anthony's mother, who was called as a witness on her behalf, had also died.

"In the result, at any event, the Crown did not invite us to order a new trial and, not without some hesitation, we have decided not to do so."

New evidence

Anthony's case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) after considering "new expert medical evidence".

The case of Anthony, who has been held at Bronzefield Jail in Ashford, west London, was one of 28 referred to the CCRC after the quashing of the conviction of Angela Cannings in January last year.

Mrs Cannings was cleared on appeal of killing two of her sons, seven-week-old Jason and 18-week-old Matthew.

The Court of Appeal then said that the fact that deaths remain unexplained could not give rise to the inference that they were caused by deliberate harm in the absence of other evidence.