PCC rejects Roy Meadow complaint against The Times

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has rejected a complaint by Professor Sir Roy Meadow that a comment piece that appeared in The Times last July was inaccurate and misleading.

The essence of his complaint related to his involvement in some of many controversial family cases and the comment that the evidence he had given in two cases in particular, had 'gone beyond his remit' and led to the convictions of innocent people.

The two cases in question were those of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings - both of whom were convicted of child killing and a not insignificant part of the evidence that has been seen as leading to their convictions related to the views expressed by Prof Meadow as an 'expert witness' in relation to the statistical probability of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Both cases were appealed and the convictions of Clark and Cannings overturned. The appeal judges in these cases were critical of the weight placed upon statistical evidence and the way it was presented by Prof Meadow who was a doctor, not a statistician. The controversial and ultimately flawed proposition he and others had put forward in these and similar cases was that in cases where an infant had suddenly died and there was no medical evidence to explain such death AND where the statistical odds of a rare disorder such as SIDDS were slight then the only explanation could be that the mother (or other accused) must have killed the child. This was as dangerous as it was flawed - one cannot argue that where science runs out of proof then suspicion takes its place BUT this is what happened and 'expert witnesses' created their own legitimacy for such arguments.

Why it took so long for many of these cases to be uncovered, appealed and reported on was because they took place behind the veil of secrecy of the family courts. The media were not allowed in to report and scrutinise. The Times in particular had been championing the case for reform to allow the press access to such proceedings to provide scrutiny. As Mediabeak reported last month this is being addressed and the rules are changing from April 2009. Returning to the PCC's rejection of the Meadow complaint, Prof Meadow had sought to argue that Camilla Cavendish's comment piece on 17th July 2008 had been misleading and inaccurate - and therefore contrary to Section 1 of the PCC code and inaccurate.

In rejecting the complaint the PCC recognised the fact that the piece complained of was a comment piece and presented the opinion of its writer. Crucially though, her comments were accepted as an accurate distillation of the facts and what had been said in court (and was a matter of public record). Prof Meadow had not been the focus of the piece and the reference to him had not constituted a breach of the PCC Code on Accuracy.

Mediabeak agrees with the decision of the PCC and the important debate surrounding the issues discussed in The Times articles and more widely. The comment that Prof Meadow had gone beyond his remit and his evidence had been a piece in the jigsaw that led to wrongful convictions is, Mediabeak would argue, a matter of public record insofar as it has been discussed in the forum of appeal courts and the media.

The media have fought long and hard to be allowed into the family courts to scrutinise what goes on and help ensure that those who hold themselves out as expert witnesses are kept in check and held to account. While not ideal it is possible to accept that an expert witness can make mistakes but what is not acceptable that such witnesses do not recognise or acknowledge where such error or mistake may have been made and further accept the fact that an open justice system and freedom of expression exist to help scuritise our courts. So in terms of the current complaint it was perhaps misplaced for Prof Meadow to cry foul and right that the media should be vindicated in their proper discussion of the important issues at stake.

PCC adjudication

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