Thursday, June 17, 2010


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: It was with great sadness that I learned this morning that the British Appeal Court upheld Keran Henderson's conviction in connection with an infant in her care. After following this case for the past several years - in the context of other convictions resulting from the highly dubious "shaken-baby syndrome" - I had hoped that the appeal court would finally vindicate Ms. Henderson and put the syndrome to rest. I do hope there are other roads that Ms. Henderson and her family can pursue and that they will continue to draw strength from their many supporters. I was personally very moved by reporter John Sweeney's report on the Henderson story on BBC Panorama -the subject of a previous post on this site - and I think there is value in repeating the post in the context of the appeal court's devastating decision:

Harold Levy. Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog:


"Reporter John Sweeney broke new ground in the reporting of the Keran Henderson story with his powerful piece on the BBC Panorama show called "Shaken Babies" which was broadcast on March 10, 2008.

"Child-minder Keran Henderson was looking after baby Maeve Sheppard in March 2005 when something went horribly wrong," the story began.

"She has since been convicted of violently shaking the 11-month-old toddler to death,"
it continued;

"That day she rang 999 and said: "I've got a baby - I can't get breaths into her. She's just taking little breaths but not much, she's like semi-unconscious at the moment...

"Oh God, this is horrible. Come on Maeve, darling, please.. She's absolutely comatose."

Two days later Maeve was dead and Keran is serving a three year sentence for manslaughter.

A minority of sceptical scientists fear that Shaken Baby Syndrome is wrong, mistaking symptoms found in innocent death with deliberate killing

She denies ever harming the child.

The case has brought heartbreak to two families. The Sheppards have lost a much-loved child.

Mark Sheppard told BBC's Panorama: "In 18 months time she goes home to a loving husband and two loving children - I will never have Maeve back."

But Iain Henderson, of Iver, Buckinghamshire, who resigned from the police after his wife was charged, is now bringing up his two sons while their mother is in prison.

Brain damage;

Most medical experts stand firmly behind Shaken Baby Syndrome - a theory which says that brain damage and bleeds over the surface of the brain and in the back of the eyes must have been caused by violent shaking.

Maeve Sheppard was 11 months old when she died
But is the science behind it so conclusive to convict beyond reasonable doubt when there is little other evidence pointing to guilt?

A minority of sceptical scientists fear that Shaken Baby Syndrome is wrong, mistaking symptoms found in innocent death with deliberate killing.

Degree of force;

Prosecution experts at the Henderson trial gave evidence to the effect that she must have done it.

Professor Risdon told the jury that because baby Maeve had brain damage and bleeds over the surface of the brain and in the eyes: "She has the three components of the triad... and they are severe. This is usually an injury perpetrated by somebody who loses their temper."

The bulk of the defence case rested on character witnesses;

Home Office pathologist Dr Nat Cary told the jury: "There are features in this case that would suggest that there has been a great degree of force."

Professor Terence Stephenson, who didn't take part in the trial, is a paediatrician at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham.

He said: "What you're talking about is a group of findings which are bleeding over the surface of the brain, sometimes with bleeding at the back of the eye, sometimes with evidence of damage to the brain or brain swelling.

"Sometimes those features are also accompanies by other injuries outside the head, fractures to the ribs or cigarette burns or scalds, whatever, but principally it's those three features."

Professor Stephenson explained how he believes anyone can end up doing it: "In the flick of an instant they lose their temper. They've violently shaken and throw that infant, and then it's over and they bitterly regret what they did.

"It wasn't predetermined malicious foul play, they just lost their temper. I don't think the fact that someone is a flawless character means it can't have happened."

The bulk of the defence case rested on character witnesses. She'd had a perfect record as a child minder.

The jury were presented with two wholly different types of evidence - unqualified sympathetic mums giving evidence of good character versus near-unanimous damning science from the experts. They voted 10-2 to convict her.

New research;

What if the majority of experts are wrong?

Neuro-pathologist Dr Waney Squier told Panorama: "I think that the use of science in this way is very questionable and since then there has been no scientific evidence to support the view that shaking can cause the findings that are characteristically described in Shaken Baby Syndrome."

Biomechanics in the US at the Wayne State University in Detroit use crash-test dummies and real corpses - including dead infants - to help make people survive car crashes. They believe that impact is far more dangerous than shaking.

They hope that their work will be published and peer-reviewed in the summer.

Biomechanic Dr Chris Van Ee said: "Shaken Baby Syndrome as described as an adult shaking a child holding him by the torso with the head flopping resulting in bleeding of the brain and retinal haemorrhage is fundamentally flawed from a biomechanics perspective. It's not valid. There's nothing to support it."

Dr Patrick Lantz, a pathologist in North Carolina, looked at the eyes of 1500 corpses which came through his morgue for more than two years from 2004 on, and says he found bleeds in the back of the eye in one in every six or seven cases.

This finding, if correct, suggests that bleeds in the eye are much more common than previously thought.

If Lantz research stands up to scrutiny, then bleeds in the eye - one whole pillar of the Shaken Baby Syndrome triad - comes under question.

Dr Lantz's work is due to be published later this year.

The scientists who back the syndrome say that inflicted eye bleed injuries are more severe and more dangerous than found in the general population.

If the science is wrong - and it's still a big "if" - Keran Henderson will have been falsely accused. Nothing, however, will bring back baby Maeve."


Here is the "This is local London" report, by reporter Andy Carswell, released earlier today, under the heading, "Iver Heath childminder Keran Henderson loses appeal," on the appeal court decision;

"A CHILDMINDER from Iver Heath has lost an appeal against her conviction for killing a baby in her care,"
the story begins.

"Appeal judges sitting at London's Court of Appeal today rejected submissions the conviction of Keran Henderson was “unsafe”," the story continues.

"She was jailed for three years in 2007 for the manslaughter of Maeve Sheppard after a Reading Crown Court jury found her guilty by a majority verdict.

The prosecution case leading to the guilty verdict was that Maeve's injuries were caused by violent shaking, but Henderson claimed the 11-month-old baby had a seizure.

Today appeal judge Lord Justice Moses, sitting with Mrs Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Hedley, described how “every effort has been made to explore every available avenue in an understandable attempt to undermine the safety of the jury's verdict”.

But he said: “There is no basis upon which this court can say that the jury was not entitled after being properly directed by (trial judge) Mr Justice Keith to conclude that the expert evidence proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant had shaken Maeve with excessive force.”

In a statement released after today's hearing, Maeve Sheppard's parents Ruth and Mark said: "Once again this case was put forward through the appeal court and it was confirmed that Keran Henderson is guilty for the manslaughter of our daughter as charged.

"We hope that through common decency the Hendersons and their supporters will now stop making us relive the nightmare that has been our lives for the last five years.

"We would like to acknowledge the work done by the police, the CPS and the medical experts who helped obtain this conviction.""

The story can be found at: