Saturday, May 17, 2008
Part Six: Think Dirty; The Paul Bernardo Connection; What killed Sally Clark?
"I HOPE SIR ROY FINDS IT EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO SLEEP IN HIS BED TONIGHT, FOR THERE IS NO DOUBT IN MY MIND THAT HE, AND THE OTHER MEDICAL EXPERTS WHO URGED THE WORLD TO "THINK DIRTY" WHEN IT CAME TO THE DEATH OF INFANT CHILDREN, KILLED THIS WOMAN WHO WANTED NOTHING MORE THAN TO BECOME A MOTHER."
JOURNALIST GEOFFREY WANSELL; THE DAILY MIRROR;
One of the most extraordinary pieces of journalism I have ever read is Geoffrey Wansell's heart-rending account of Sally Clark's death, published in the Daily Mail on March 17, 2007, under the heading, "May all those who drove Sally to this hang their heads in shame."
"The brutal truth is Sally Clark was killed by the law as surely as if she had been sentenced to the gallows in the days of the death penalty," Wansell began.
"No civilised society should allow itself to tolerate such behaviour towards a mother whose only crime was to love her children - and do everything in her power to protect them," he continued.
"Sally Clark's death is a grotesque stain on the British legal system, the Cheshire police and the medical establishment: and they should never be allowed to forget it.
It not only makes me unbearably sad, it makes me desperately angry.
For there was no need for her to suffer in the first place - nor to pay the ultimate price for that suffering.
As the writer who campaigned ceaselessly in this newspaper for her release from prison for crimes that she patently could never have committed I know only too well the terrifying, dreadful toll that her conviction took upon her and those closest to her.
For it was not just Sally herself who was affected by the judgment that she was a murderer.
It was also her solicitor husband Steve, her father Frank Lockyer, a retired police superintendent, and her sole surviving son - who as a toddler saw her only in a prison cell and then welcomed home a woman whom he barely knew.
That little boy will now have to grow up without a mother, sustained by a father who will never recover from his wife's death.
Stephen Clark will once again, just as he did throughout her three years and three months in prison, have to do his best to keep his family together.
For me these are crimes for which someone should be held responsible - but, of course, they will not.
Not the judge who didn't tell the jury to ignore the utterly wrong, and terribly damaging statistical evidence that the chances of two infant deaths in a single family were 73 million to one.
And not that distinguished paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow, whose "law" suggested that one infant death in a single family was a tragedy, two were suspicious and three were clearly murder.
I hope Sir Roy finds it extremely difficult to sleep in his bed tonight, for there is no doubt in my mind that he, and the other medical experts who urged the world to "think dirty" when it came to the death of infant children, killed this woman who wanted nothing more than to become a mother.
In January 2003, I stood beside her on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice after she was granted her freedom by the Court of Appeal.
The once-hopeful, slightly chubby blonde had been turned into a wraith by her trial, her imprisonment, and the battle to see her released and justice done.
With Stephen's arm around her shoulder she looked grey, the lines etched deeply into a face that looked a decade older than her years.
It was all the more of a tragedy because she had been destroyed by British justice.
No one could give her back the years she'd spent in prison and no one could give her back her sons, Christopher and Harry, who died at just 12 and eight weeks.
That winter's afternoon I watched her husband with his head in his hands, and her father with tears running down his cheeks in joy and relief - hoping against hope that she would be able to recover.
As she left the court to disappear from the limelight for ever and "get a bit of peace" - as her husband said to me when he squeezed my hand as he left - I fervently hoped that she might be able to recover.
But life after such a trauma has proved too much for this only child of a loving senior police officer who doted on her every move, and a husband who never for a single moment stopped fighting for her and supporting her, even in the darkest hours after her first appeal to the High Court was turned down.
They were two of the most upright and respectable men you could hope to meet - and they never wavered for one instant from their conviction that Sally had been the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice.
I agreed with them.
In 40 years of reporting I have never felt so sorry for anyone I have written about, nor more strongly about any single case and I wanted to do everything I could to help her regain her freedom and clear her name.
To lose not one but two baby sons is bad enough, but then to be convicted of their murder is beyond belief.
The prosecution and the police had suggested that she hadn't wanted to lose her glamorous lifestyle - didn't they consider that an abortion, rather than murder, might have been more straightforward?
No they did not.
Did they consider that the daughter of a policeman, a practising solicitor, might take great pains to cover her tracks if indeed she had decided to kill her sons?
No they did not.
Did no one at the Crown Prosecution Service care to consider that their medical evidence might be open to more than one interpretation?
No, they did not.
Those decisions cost Sally Clark her freedom - and now they have cost her life.
May every single person who perpetrated them hang their heads in shame.
They have traduced the values of a society that should pride itself in compassion and forgiveness.
On that January afternoon in 2003, when the campaign for her exoneration finally succeeded, I hoped that perhaps, just perhaps, the terrible wounds that she had suffered might heal: that Sally might be able to forget the women screaming at her in prison that she was a "child killer", to forget the four Christmases away from her son and her husband; to forget that the society, and the law, in which she had put such faith, had let her down.
As the weeks turned into months, however, I began to hear that she was finding life desperately difficult.
Sally had never seen the house her husband took her back to that January afternoon - they had been forced to sell their Cheshire home to pay the legal fees - and he had moved to London.
She had barely spent a single day with her surviving son, who truly knew only his "daddy" and always asked where he was in the first weeks that they spent together, and she could barely bring herself to set foot outside the door for fear of being recognised.
Sally took to wearing a baseball cap, and scrunching her hair up beneath it to avoid even the slightest chance that someone in the supermarket might say: "You're Sally Clark, aren't you?"
She didn't wish to be a campaigner, she didn't want to be a celebrity.
Indeed she turned down endless lucrative offers to give television interviews, to tell her story to the press.
Neither did she want to become a spokesman for mothers whose infants die sudden and unexpected deaths.
She wanted the one thing that she could not have - her "old life back".
This once happy-go-lucky young woman - whom the Cheshire police disgracefully described in private to some newspapers after her initial conviction as "a bit of a drinker" - wanted only to return to what she had always longed for: life as a wife and mother, with a career that might sustain her when she could find time for it.
Though her husband and her father never said it, as the months passed, it became ever clearer that Sally was never going to be the same cheery, charming young woman with her whole life and new family in front of her, that she had once so longed to be.
Tragically, that young life is now at an end - brought there by a judicial system and a medical establishment that should have protected her, not judged her.
Sally Clark will never be forgotten - not by those who loved her, as her family did, or respected and admired her, as I did - but also by the thousands of mothers in decades to come who may be accused of killing their infant children by medical experts and prosecutors who think it is important that we should "think dirty" if babies die.
That thought offers no real consolation to Sally Clark's son, nor to her husband, her father and her stepmother, how could it?
But it offers just the smallest hope that her tragic death will not have been entirely in vain.
She deserves that at the very least."
My heart goes out to Sally Clark and her family - and to her Canadian counter-parts and their families who were plunged into a living hell while trying to cope with their grief at the loss of their children - as Wansell so ably put it, "by a judicial system and a medical establishment that should have protected her, not judged her."
Wansell particularly caught my attention with his comment that, "Sally Clark's death is a grotesque stain on the British legal system, the Cheshire police and the medical establishment: and they should never be allowed to forget it."
The horrors suffered by dozens of innocent parents and caregivers in Ontario can also be said to be a grotesque stain on Canada's legal system, police forces across the province and Ontario's medical establishment.