Donna Anthony
By Ken Norman.

A young mother who claimed her two babies were victims of cot death went on trial yesterday, charged with murdering them, reported the Daily Express on October 29, 1998.

“Tormented Donna Anthony, 25, smothered 11-month-old Jordan and four-month-old Michael then feigned anguish,” the jury was told. "Frantically she tried to revive them after taking them to the very edge of the line that divides life and death.”

Little Jordan died in 1996 after Anthony raced to get help from a neighbour in Yeovil, Somerset. She cradled the lifeless baby in her arms as she pleaded with the woman to call an ambulance. A post-mortem was carried out but the cause of death was not established and doctors decided she was a cot death victim.

Michael died in similar circumstances in 1997 and Anthony said she had found him blue-faced in his cot. A post-mortem found no apparent cause of death. Jordan had been admitted to hospital four times in six months after Anthony claimed she had stopped breathing. Doctors discovered history was repeating itself when she made the same claim about Michael days before he died.

Paul Dunkels QC, prosecuting, said: “The babies died because Anthony deliberately stopped them from breathing. We do not suggest she intended to kill, rather that her intentions were to take her babies to the very edge of the line which divides life and death. She intended to cause them really serious, though not permanent, harm. You may wonder why she behaved this way towards her children. Perhaps it was to bring attention and sympathy to herself. Perhaps it was resentment towards her baby. Or perhaps it was both.” [
Or perhaps it was neither and this is all fantasising.]

"He said that medical experts were of the opinion that the babies' deaths were more typical of smothering than natural causes. [But this was not the opinion of those carrying out the post-mortems who could find no apparent cause of death.]

Anthony's husband Dean, a taxi driver, said he believed she was suffering from post-natal depression. He told the court: “She did not seem to be able to accept Jordan even though we had been trying for a baby for quite some time.”

Anthony denies murdering Jordan and Michael.

Under a smaller, lighter headline it was reported: "Accused baby killer Donna Anthony yesterday painted herself as a devoted mother. She was arrested in July 1997 on suspicion of murdering her daughter Jordan, 11 months, and her four-month-old son Michael. Yesterday Anthony, aged 25, wept in the witness box as she told a court how much her children meant to her.

Anthony, of Poplars Close, Yeovil, told Bristol Crown Court: “For the first few months of her life Jordan brought so much joy to my life - I loved her. After her death I was falling to pieces. I couldn't bear to read the sympathy cards - it upset me too much.”

Earlier the court heard than Anthony had claimed her children had died of cot death, but was later charged with their murders.

Yesterday, choking back tears, she re-lived the moment when her daughter died. She said: “Jordan would usually wake up at 5.45 p.m. but on this particular night for some reason she had not woken up. I went upstairs to check on her and she was lifeless - she was blue around the eyes, nose and mouth. I rushed downstairs with her and tried CPR (heart massage resuscitation).”

On November 5, 1998 the Western Gazette said that Donna denied killing her son to get sympathy and to make her estranged husband feel guilty, after an argument. Paramedics called to the house found Michael very cold and with dilated eyes as if he had been dead for some time. Donna told jurors she was napping in the bath when she awoke to the sound of Michael's breathing alarm, dressed and ran downstairs to him. She described her frantic efforts to revive him and when asked why she had not phoned for an ambulance she said: "I did not want to interrupt my concentration." She had stood on the doorstep with Michael in her arms, alternately shouting for help and trying to resuscitate him.

Professor Sir Roy Meadow, described as a world authority on cot deaths, testified that he believed Donna smothered her two children. Both, he said, showed signs of having been smothered, with Donna's behaviour before the deaths pointing to her being guilty of the crimes. [This was his deduction because she had gone to the hospital five times saying a child had stopped breathing, this could be regarded as typical of prolonged sleep apnoea, which can lead to death if the condition is not noted in time. Even a tweak to a toe can bring breathing back to normal.]

Sir Roy added that Donna's behaviour at the time of Jordan's apnoea attacks, during which the child stopped breathing, was not that of a genuinely anxious mother. [Were these Sir Roy's words? If he did term them apnoea attacks, then this was illness, not murder. And IS there a typical response by a genuinely anxious mother? Many would declare that there is not.]

It was always the mother who saw the start of one of these episodes, despite the fact that Jordan had spent quite long periods in hospital and being cared for by her grandparents, observed Sir Roy. [A very weak argument if intended to prove guilt of murder. There may have been some factor in the parents' home which differed from elsewhere (an extra blanket, or one less; a draught from a window; different temperature; different feeding; germs.]

“There are things in Jordan's case that are commonly found with babies which are found in the criminal courts to have been smothered.” [But are the courts always correct in their findings?]

"Professor Peter Berry, a paediatric pathologist based at Bristol University, who carried out the post-mortem on Michael and later reviewed the post-mortem on Jordan, said he found no natural reason for the tragic deaths," reported the Western Gazette. [But Professor Berry's post-mortem on Michael had decided that this was a cot death. It would seem that he was asked a trick question by the prosecution - "Can you give natural reason for these deaths?" - and Professor Berry would have to say no. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome means natural death for which no specific cause can be found. Called for the defence at Maxine Robinson's trial he had declared that "sooner or later two cot deaths will occur on the same night in the same house. It is unlikely but it is a probability that it will happen." He also said that many of the signs of suffocation could also be seen in natural cot death.]

"It's incredibly long odds that two children within the same family could die suddenly, and without explanation, of natural causes," said Sir Roy in evidence [in total contradiction of Professor Berry's view that two cot deaths could occur in the same house on the same night.]
"It's well-recognised that child abuse and smothering affect subsequent babies." [And well-recognised by other experts that SIDS can bring subsequent deaths.]

"Evil mother jailed for life" was the Western Gazette's headline on November 18. She callously played the role of heartbroken mother, claiming the tragic tots had been victims of cot death. But an unguarded remark in a phone conversation with a friend betrayed the truth. Referring to helpless little Jordan, Anthony snarled: “She was a f-king little sh-t, an absolute nightmare. The funeral will be a good excuse for a piss-up. [Note that this alleged remark must have been made in 1996 and it did not become known until 1998. There are friends who have a wholly different opinion, still believing her innocent, but they were not called to give evidence; and to anyone knowing Donna it is unlikely that she would have used this language.]

On Tuesday her cold-hearted charade was over as she began a double life sentence after a jury of nine men and three women took five hours to find her unanimously guilty. She sobbed silently as judge Mr Justice Michael Astill sentenced her. He said: "You deprived your two young children of their right to live and it is difficult without knowing much more why you should have done this. My suspicion is that you are a very damaged young woman and I will cause an investigation to be made so I can know more about the events in your life which might have brought about what you did. It is a tragedy for these two young children. It is a tragedy also for you, and I must pass upon you the only sentence that I can by law."

"Anthony feigned anguish after finding Jordan blue-faced in her cot on 1 February 1996," the Western Gazette continued, going back over earlier evidence.

A week later it was reported that as the Western Gazette went to press, Donna's solicitor, George Hawks, said she still maintained her innocence. "I have instructions that she wishes to appeal and the grounds of appeal are being prepared," he announced.

The situation would be farcical if it were not tragic. Donna had been given an apnoea monitor by doctors who feared that Jordan had breathing problems and without it she might die in her sleep before her condition was noticed. Monitors are provided for this specific purpose: so that an adult might hear audible alarm if a child's breathing becomes erratic. The expectation of these doctors was that on occasions Donna would call for a doctor or an ambulance, or rush Jordan to hospital in a critical condition. The eventual death was recorded as natural and because there is known to be high risk that subsequent babies may also die of SIDS, a monitor was provided for Michael, presumably in expectation that he, too, might suffer prolonged sleep apnoea. They would have been not at all surprised that Donna made identical claim that the alarm had sounded.

On four occasions the alarm sounded, according to Donna, and she rushed to inform doctors. This is precisely why apnoea monitors are provided after a mother has lost a child from SIDS. The fifth time that the alarm sounded (again according to Donna, for there were no other witnesses) she was in the bath and did not hear it in the few seconds during which her baby died. The prosecution was free to suggest that there had been four partial attempts at suffocation and a fifth which succeeded.

There was not the slightest proof of this, and it was never more than a possibility, but sufficient to persuade the jury. Two infants had died, their mother was believed by the police to have murdered them, and they, “must have known something more than they could say.” So on the basis of nothing more than guesswork, the original forensic decisions that the children had died inexplicably (i.e. naturally) was overturned, and Donna is serving two life sentences.

In San Diego, defence attorney Eugene Iredale made exasperated claim that "there is a set of medical 'true believers,' shaken-baby zealots who say that shaking a baby, and shaking a baby alone, can cause its death." Now, it seems, 'true believers' can reinterpret the use of apnoea monitors to argue that if the device is said to have sounded the alarm, it means that the parent or carer is therefore guilty of an attempt to smother and kill the child. It is equivalent to arguing that if a child needs medicine, this is proof that the mother must have attempted to poison it. If so, no wonder the supply of apnoea monitors is now being questioned. It means that infants may die because monitors have not been provided, although doctors closely associated with the children's medical condition might believe them to be essential.

When an infant dies and it is impossible to know the cause, it is recorded as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But there is of necessity an element of doubt. Nowadays, because of the views of a minority of pathologists, if there is a second fatality in that family the police become highly suspicious and want to bring a charge of murder.

Professor Sir Roy Meadow told the Bristol jury that a single cot death was a thousand-to-one misfortune, therefore two deaths in one family were a million-to-one chance and indicated murder. If he was quoted correctly, Sir Roy's mathematics are suspect: after the first child (Jordan) had died the odds would return to zero and Donna would have had exactly the same chance as any other mother of losing a subsequent baby.

But this presupposes that SIDS are not inherited, and in this there are hundreds of pathologists who would disagree with Sir Roy. If they are right, there is not the slightest reason to suppose that Donna killed her children, and on the contrary she did everything that was in her power to save their lives by reporting their attacks of prolonged sleep apnoea to the hospital.

On March 18, 1999 (too late to be made known to Donna's jurors) Jenny Hope, medical correspondent of the Daily Mail, wrote: "Scientists are investigating whether babies could inherit an increased risk of cot death from their parents. Researchers believe there could be a genetic factor that leaves some babies vulnerable to an over-reaction to infections which may trigger sudden infant death syndrome. A new £75,000, 18-month study by Edinburgh University could show for the first time [not so; there have been many other studies, but not along the same lines] that SIDS can run in families. Research team chief Dr Caroline Blackwell said: 'This is not going to bring babies back, but it might help parents come to terms with their death."

[It might also help the law come to terms with the likelihood that, if parents lose a child to certain types of SIDS, then subsequent infants may be almost certain to die too, unless medical knowledge eventually finds a cure.]

Dr Blackwell continued: "If we can demonstrate a good reason for cot death this will help parents [and perhaps Sir Roy too] to understand their baby didn't die because of something they did wrong." Blood samples will be tested to identify the response of infection-fighting white blood cells to bacteria and viruses. The researchers want to determine if the parents of SIDS babies have high or low levels of these cells.”

[This research, however, will be bedevilled by the fact that SIDS is a very wide category; many types may not be hereditary, while the mothers carrying the hereditary flaw are likely to be in jail serving life sentences, and their blood will not be sampled since they're obviously evil killers, if you believe the law.]

There are hundreds of medical theories as to how SIDS can happen, but every paediatric pathologist would agree that manual suffocation is a possibility. Police and prosecutors have national data, so they know in advance which pathologists can be expected to favour the murder theory, and can therefore arrange that 'true believer' experts, carrying out forensic examination, will conclude that a parent, or a minder, smothered the child. At that stage the accused is unrepresented, but before interrogation is asked to name a lawyer. This person is unlikely ever to have been involved previously in a case of this type, and will have no knowledge of the differing opinions of pathologists.

It took six weeks to find a pathologist who was free to take on Donna Anthony's case and to make forensic examination of a corpse cut to pieces six weeks earlier. The most expert evidence that could be obtained for the defence after this time-gap was that death was likely to be natural.

A single question: “Are you certain this is how the child died?” And the inevitable answer, “No,” provides the jury with evidence of guilt. The prosecution was free to suggest that there had been four partial attempts at suffocation and a fifth which succeeded. Not the slightest proof was given, and it was never more than a possibility. But sufficient to persuade the jury. So on the basis of nothing more than guesswork, the original forensic decision that a child had died naturally was overturned, and Donna is serving two life sentences. That’s British justice, time after time after time



ADDENDUM (written by Felicity McCall)

On Monday, April 11, 2004, Donna Anthony finally walked free after the Appeal Court quashed her “guilty” verdict as unsafe and unsound. The legal ruling was something of a formality; the crucial breakthrough had come 18 months earlier when the same court had cleared Angela Cannings of murdering her two babies.

It had taken six years and sends the 31 year old out into a world where she is effectively homeless and has no family. Her mother died when she was in prison. Her husband, from whom she is divorced, had originally said he believed she had smothered her 11 month old daughter Jordan and a year later four month old Michael. Throughout her questioning, trial and imprisonment Ms Anthony had maintained they were victims of cot death. Her former husband now says he “accepts the appeal court’s judgement.”

Outside the Appeal Court, it was left to Donna Anthony’s solicitor, George Hawkes, to speak for her. She was, he said “overwhelmed by her freedom”. ”She was condemned by theory based on suspicion masquerading as medical opinion, which was completely wrong”, he added. Mr Hawkes said the whole episode” had completely shattered her life”. “There are immense problems facing her out there which she has got to cope with, and she is going to need a lot of help and assistance” he added, as Ms Anthony, a silent, shadowy figure, was ushered into a waiting car. The smiling young mother in the baby photographs reproduced at her trial seems a lifetime away. No amount of compensation can buy her back.

As the ruling was announced, newspapers were already reporting that the discredited paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow whose evidence had effectively sealed her conviction, has been paid
£50,000 to testify in court. The head of the Royal College of Paediatricians, Sir Alan Craft, says “lessons are being learned” from what he called “these difficult cases.”