Back in 2000 there was a very small band of people who decided to openly stand up for women who were accused of murdering their babies. Often we were the pariahs of society. Attaching yourself to such a controversial and emotive cause often meant running the gauntlet of being verbally and in my case, physically abused. After all when a jury finds a mother guilty of murdering her children and the headlines state “baby killer” it had to be true didn’t it?
We spent most of our days pouring over medical evidence, researching deaths in the families; looking for undetected genetic disorders such as long QT syndrome (a genetic heart condition causing cardia arythmias that can lead to sudden death) Epilepsy, or other so called ‘orphan diseases’. We would ring, email, beg, experts in the field of genetics, bio mechanics, bleeding disorders, chemical pathology, toxicology, cardiology to help. Many did, albeit mostly American doctors. I became an expert in genealogy, tracing family histories, finding infant deaths as well as over the counter drugs and adverse events. The more I learned, assisted by some of the best medical brains in the world, the more concerned I became.
In the midst of all of this were wrongly convicted mothers and their families, all of whom we had to deal with too. Emotionally, legally, medically. These were the dark days, these where the days of Roy Meadow whose ‘expertise’ was unchallenged, the days when the mantra was ‘1 death is a tragedy, 2 is suspicious and 3 is murder”. These were the days when often we felt there was no hope.
During this period of time there was this giant, in every sense, of a man, a human unlike any other human I have met. A gentle, fiercely intelligent, thoughtful man, a man to whom I turned to at every point for advice, support and solace when it all got too much, which frequently it did. Long frustrating hours of painstaking research eliciting evidence that fell on deaf ears. That man, John Batt, was the foundation upon which we built strong, scientifically supported legal arguments upon which we could start to expose a deeply flawed medico/legal system and rectify the appalling wrongs perpetuated upon wholly innocent mothers.
Anyone with an interest in this area of the law knows what ultimately happened in these cases. What they don’t know are the events behind some of the less high profile cases. The events that define who and what John Batt was.
In 2004 Marianne Williams was charged with the murder of her premature baby. She was alleged to have poisoned him with salt. She was also accused of having Münchausen syndrome by proxy as the motive for killing her baby. She is alleged to have done it to garner attention for herself.
At this point the family contacted me for assistance. I had already gained a reputation for campaigning against the use of MSbP as a ‘motive to murder’ and the overuse of this psychiatric condition in both the criminal courts and family division. It was the diagnosis de jour, if a child became sick and doctors didn’t know what was the matter, then “mum did it” was the final diagnosis. Because of all the research we were undertaking, we had already identified adverse drug events, ‘orphan diseases’ and genetic predisposition in many cases, we knew, without a doubt, that there were a significant amount of women out there that had and were being falsely accused.
At the time the mother already had a legal team, my starting point was to get a blow by blow account of everything that had gone on, most importantly, mum’s medical history prior to and during pregnancy. Joshua was born prematurely with kidneys that did not work. That became highly significant in the end, as did the drugs he was prescribed.
I started to send the evidence I had to her legal team, evidence supporting why Joshua would have had high levels of sodium in his system. Domperidone, a drug Joshua was prescribed, interferes with how salt behaves in the body and more importantly, as the drug passed through the blood brain barrier, it had neurological effects. It was already being associated with a condition called neuroleptic malignant syndrome, (NMS) which causes sodium levels to rise. I was at this time already in contact with the MHRA who control medicines in the U.K. and they had launched, on the back of my yellow card reporting, an investigation into Domperidone and the potential for it being the cause of NMS.
The legal team representing Marianne chose to ignore me and the expert reports written by those whom I had approached. They repeatedly failed to take instruction regarding further investigations into the crucial evidence that they chose to ignore. Marianne was becoming more and more distraught, her legal team were telling her that the evidence against her was ‘overwhelming’ and their advice was to plead guilty. I, of course, was totally opposed to this and started now to line up a new legal team, I had them on standby. Marianne was too scared to change her team at that point, feeling that it was too dangerous to bring in a new one. We did not want to put any further pressure on her, so remained supportive and positive, whilst preparing for what we thought was inevitably going to be a guilty verdict as they were ignoring all the science supporting her innocence, backed up by experts, that would potentially exhonerate her. John Batt was at the end of a telephone at all times to offer much needed reassurance to Marianne. Building some trust in the legal profession, trust that her own team had destroyed.
On the first day of her trial, her mother rang me (a highly intelligent woman who had assisted me in all the research) to say that Marianne’s legal team were ‘bullying’ her into pleading guilty to manslaughter and she felt Marianne, despite all the support, was caving in.
I immediately got off the phone and rang John for advice, as ever he remained calm and gave clear instructions on what to do. He was however extremely perturbed that Marriane’s legal team were refusing to take instruction and coercing her into a guilty plea to ‘avoid a life sentence’. He told me to tell Marianne he was on his way, he told me to tell her she must stand up in court and tell the judge that she had ‘lost confidence in her legal team’ but to wait until he got there. I in the meantime was to get hold of another solicitor who had already been appraised (by the family) of what was going on and ensure he kept his phone line free. I followed his every instruction. John Batt got in his car, he drove to Winchester Crown Court, enveloped Marianne in his arms, told her that everything was going to be OK and walked her into court to utter those case defining words ‘Your Honour I have lost faith in my legal team, I no longer want them to represent me’. Marianne then left the court to instruct a new legal team.
John then temporarily stepped in and informed the judge that others more qualified than himself where on their way to Winchester to make legal representations. The trial was stopped. John waited in court with the family, constantly reassuring them that they had made the right decision and that no defendant should ever be coerced into admitting guilt when they were innocent by their legal team.
In the meantime, the barrister who had also been fully cognisant of the facts of the case as we were ‘running’ another alleged salt poisoning case and there were ‘crossovers’, left Wales, where coincidently he was visiting the defendant in the other case, drove all the way to Winchester CC to make legal applications with regard to the new instruction and case management, having borrowed a gown and wig from a complete stranger in court (Thank you whoever that was).
We got a new trial date, just 6 weeks later. In those six weeks the solicitor, barrister and QC pulled together the most incredible defence. To the point that the main witness for the prosecution had to admit on the stand that he had ‘given erroneous evidence’ in his expert report, having failed to calculate how much sodium had been given in a drip by the hospital upon Joshua’s admission.
Marianne was unanimously found not guilty in the space of just over an hour. It was a comprehensive annihilation of the whole of the CPS’s case.
The above is an abbreviated version of events, highlights.
It was all down to one man. One man who hand held a terrified young grieving woman. A man who gave her the confidence to do what was right for her. A man who without a backward glance got into his car to save the day. He not only saved the day, he saved a life. Mariannes. He prevented any further harm coming to that family.
In the field I have chosen to work in. Fighting false allegations. There was nobody like John Batt. His contribution in this area was unparalleled. I was privileged to have had him in my life.