WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 19 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Australian mum pardoned for her babies’ death

Australian mum pardoned for her babies’ death

Pic: Patrick Maguire
Untitled: Patrick Maguire

An Australian mother was released after 20 years of imprisonment following the death of her four children. Kathleen Folbigg was accused at trial of smothering her four children but has now been pardoned following a judicial inquiry into her conviction. New evidence from the inquiry suggests the possibility that they died from a rare genetic disorder, casting a “reasonable doubt” on her convictions.

Folbigg was convicted in 2003 for the alleged killing of her children, Caleb, Patrick, Sarah, and Laura. The children passed away over the course of 10 years, aged between 19 days and 19 months old. The inquiry into Folbigg’s conviction was led by retired judge Tom Bathurst, and heard that the children died of natural causes. New South Wales attorney general, Michael Daley, promptly pardoned Folbigg.

An earlier inquiry took place in 2019 and concluded that no reasonable doubt existed over Folbigg’s guilt. Medical researchers and the Australian Academy of Science called the present inquiry, in response to feelings that the medical evidence was misunderstood in earlier attempts. Throughout the trial, there was never evidence of physical harm to the children. Evidence at the time even suggested that the children died from natural causes, possibly Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS, also known as “cot death”, causes otherwise healthy children to die unexpectedly and is responsible for the death of around 200 children every year in the UK. New forensic science evidence concluded that the children had rare genetic mutations which caused their death.

The miscarriage of justice that Folbigg experienced is reminiscent of those seen in British history. Two similar cases in the UK are the wrongful convictions of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings. Both of these women were wrongfully convicted of murder following the deaths of their children. In both cases they lost both children at young ages to SIDS, but were blamed for their deaths. The prosecution relied on the testimonies of paediatrician Roy Meadows, who misconstrued statistical evidence before the jury. Both women had their convictions overturned following fresh scientific evidence.

Folbigg’s prosecution relied on her diaries as evidence, but the trial lacked expert opinions on “maternal grieving”, a depressive disorder she was experiencing at the time. This led to many of Folbigg’s feelings and behaviors being misunderstood. Bathurst concluded that the ‘evidence suggests they were the writings of a grieving and possibly depressed mother, blaming herself for the death of each child, as distinct from admissions that she murdered or otherwise harmed them.’

Despite Folbigg’s pardon, the conviction has not been quashed, which would require a ruling from the Court of Appeal. If quashed, Folbigg would be eligible to sue to New South Wales government for compensation.