Sunday, March 18, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Sally Clarke drank herself to death

By Neville Thurlbeck

TRAGIC cot death mum Sally Clark drank herself to death as she tried to drown out the pain of being wrongly jailed for murdering her two baby boys.

The 42-year-old solicitor was found dead at her home on Friday following a massive heart attack brought on by years of boozing to blot out the horror of losing both tots to cot death.

Her devoted husband Stephen was away on business.

Speaking exclusively to the News of the World, Sally's closest family friend John Batt revealed: "She was drinking to console herself and to ease the pain of her grief. It was no secret she had an alcohol problem.

"If it was a bad day, she was inconsolable — that's the best way of putting it, I suppose.

"Fortunately, as friends we didn't see too many of those. But Steve saw them all. You go through ten years of that sort of torture and it does something to you.

"But Sally was the best mother a child could wish for. How tragic it is for her family to be facing all this on Mothering Sunday."

In Sally's own moving written account of her problems she wrote: "As time has gone by since my release things have got worse, not better.

"Now I am devastated that I seem to be going backwards... I can't cope."

Professor Sir Roy Meadow - the disgraced paediatrician expert whose flawed evidence sent Sally to jail in 1999 with two life sentences — has been accused of having blood on his hands.


Sally's furious father-in-law Thomas Clark said: "Why don't you track down Roy Meadow and ask him what he thinks about this?

"He has put this family through more grief than you can ever imagine.

"I hope he rots in hell."

The 73-year-old professor was in hiding after news of Sally's death broke. Curtains at his £500,000 cottage in the picture-postcard Warwickshire village of Upper Tysoe were closed and the door remained firmly locked.

He failed to come to the door and speak to the News of the World, or offer any sort of public apology or statement of regret over Sally's death.

Neighbours told callers he did not want to answer questions over whether he felt any guilt over the tragedy. One insisted: "He won't want to speak to you."

When paramedics answered Friday's 999 call to Sally's home in Hatfield Peverel, Essex, her third son — who is now eight and cannot be named for legal reasons — was with another member of the family.

A police spokesman said: "Mrs Clark was alone at the time of her death. And we do not suspect suicide. A post-mortem will take place on Monday. This may show that she had taken something but we very much doubt it."

Paramedics at the scene suspected a massive cardiac arrest.

Mr Batt, also a lawyer, has known the Clark family for more than 30 years and wrote a book about the battle to clear Sally's name.

He added: "I spoke to Sally last Monday and last saw her a couple of weeks ago when they came over to visit us.

"She was fine. But it depended on whether you caught her on a good day or a bad day.

"The succession of disasters that overtook her life is the stuff of nightmares. Her death is simply the last in a succession of terrible tragedies.

"Christopher and Harry, the babies who died, were more important to her than her own life. She absolutely adored both of them. She would never, ever, in a million years have harmed a hair on either of their heads.

"She was a wonderful mother, absolutely wonderful. Her surviving son totally adored her. She was a magical mother, there's no other word for it.

"When those babies died her life fell completely apart. And before she had a chance to grieve for them the whole machinery of the criminal justice system swung into action.

"She was arrested, charged with murder, convicted and locked up. She served 3 years before the second appeal cleared her name and freed her.

"I don't think anyone ever recovers from something like that.

"But as well as being an amazingly talented mother she was an amazingly gifted lawyer. I've no doubt that, had she chosen to do so, she could have gone right to the very top."

Sally's 1999 trial at Chester Crown Court, where she was accused of smothering 11-week-old Christopher and shaking eight-week-old Harry to death at their home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, sparked sensation.

It was there that Sir Roy, as an expert witness for the prosecution, rejected Sally's testimony that her babies had both suffered cot death 13 months apart.

The jury convicted Sally after he insisted there was only a one in 73 MILLION chance of that being true.

But Stephen, 45, also a solicitor, always vowed she was not guilty. On the day she was led away to prison in handcuffs he declared: "My wife was a caring devoted mother to our sons. She is innocent."

As he began his long crusade to clear her, Sally discovered the hell she was in for behind bars. In her own moving account of that time she wrote: "At Styal Prison as I walk through the door 50 faces stare at me, screaming, ‘Here's the nonce!' ‘Murderer!' ‘Die woman, die!'

"I am put in a small holding cell.

"Other prisoners are banging on the door, shouting more abuse and clambering up to look through the window. I feel like a caged animal."

On the outside there were raised voices too. Professor Meadow's 73-million-to-one theory was rubbished by The Royal Statistical Society.

They wrote to the Lord Chancellor saying there was NO statistical basis for his evidence. And The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths produced evidence that second cot deaths in the same family occur roughly once a year.

Experts now believe the risk could be as high as one in 100.

Meanwhile Stephen uncovered key Home Office evidence NOT revealed to the jury or the defence team — that Harry's body had contained lethal levels of bacterial infection indicating death by natural causes.

In January 2003 Sally's conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal and she was free. But her nightmare was never to end.


Angela Cannings — another mum left "an emotional wreck" after being wrongly convicted of murdering her two baby sons in 1999 — spoke out passionately to challenge discredited expert Sir Roy.

"He should feel ashamed of himself," said Angela, 43, at her Cornwall home.

"He has to take some responsibility for what's happened and have the guts to make a public apology. But he's not the only one who should feel shame. The Crown Prosecution Service had a hand in our convictions as did the police and social services.

"They all helped convict people who were completely innocent, ripping lives and families apart."


By Jayne Butterworth

IT'S almost impossible to comprehend what Sally went through. Not only did she lose the babies she loved, but she was falsely imprisoned and, subsequently, endured abuse and mental torture.

No wonder she found it so difficult to come to terms with her life after her release. She had won back her freedom but what life was left waiting for her? She had lost her children but she never had the opportunity to grieve for them AND she had been accused of their murder.

Turning to alcohol when you're trying to mask inner pain seems tempting because it obliterates the hurt and stops you having to deal with the horror. But you can't put a sticking plaster over such a deep wound.

As for her husband Steve and their son, what terrible torments for them to have to endure.

Sally showed incredible strength to survive her ordeal and beat the justice system. Sadly she could not escape the demons in her head. And it was those demons that eventually overwhelmed her.

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