Early this year, the Court of Appeal will have a chance to hear for the first time the case of Jacqueline Fletcher, who was jailed for life at Birmingham crown court in 1988 for drowning her six-week-old son, Glen.

Ms Fletcher, now 23, was born in Bangor, north Wales, and grew up in Atherstone, Warwickshire. When she left school she started going out with a young petty criminal, Glen Miles, and became pregnant by him.

Her first baby was born prematurely after what Warwickshire social services described as 'physical abuse and kicking by the father-to-be' and weighed just over two pounds. She was not capable of looking after the child properly - doctors now say she has an IQ of 70 and a mental age of 10. The child was taken into care and eventually adopted.

Her second child, Glen Richard Miles, was born in September 1984, again prematurely. The child's father was back in prison shortly after the birth. Social services worked closely with Jacqueline to make sure that the child was properly cared for. She was visited daily by at least one person connected with the social services.

On October 19, 1984, a postman, Gary Penny, arrived to deliver mail and found Ms Fletcher crying 'my baby, my baby.' The child was dead on the sofa and Mr Penny called the ambulance and police. An ambulanceman attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A pathologist's examination suggested that the child was a cot death victim. No inquest was held, as is the normal practice, so that parents are not caused further distress.

More than three years later, in December 1987, and a mother again for the third time, she was complaining about the fractious nature of the new child. With her landlady in the room, she said: 'I'll do to you what I done to the other.'

The police were informed and she was taken to Nuneaton police station and questioned for six hours. At the start of the interview she told the police that she had woken and found her baby dead. But later, after she had asked her solicitor, Ian Richardson, to leave the room she is recorded as having admitted to the killing, giving 'post-natal depression' as her reason. Her solicitor said he was shocked to find she had changed her mind when he returned and witnessed her full confession. She was charged with murder.
Even at this stage it did not appear that Ms Fletcher would be jailed for life. Infanticide, in which a mother suffering from post-natal depression takes her child's life, is normally seen as necessitating treatment and care rather than jail.

The main evidence against her in court was her confession, in which she described how the baby struggled under water. A Home Office pathologist, Dr Peter Andrews, also gave evidence based on an analysis of microscopic slides of body tissues, which had been kept for routine research purposes. From these, Dr Andrew concluded that the pathology was consistent with drowning. After the jury had convicted her on a majority verdict of 10 to two she was given a mandatory life sentence.

But there were many puzzling factors which a probation officer working with her became concerned about. Justice, the British section of the International Commission of Jurists, was contacted. It in turn alerted the BBC programme, Rough Justice, and an investigation was launched.

New aspects emerged: her mental age suggested that the confession might be unreliable there were inconsistencies in the method by which she said she had drowned the baby. The second factor concerned the testimony of Dr Andrews. Rough Justice contacted a number of experts in paediatric pathology and their findings were that the pathology was equally consistent with cot death.

It was discovered that there had been testimony given by Dr Andrews in which he had referred to the child's lungs as being 'waterlogged' this, it transpired, had only been an attempt at putting complex pathology into layman's language. In fact, far from having any extraneous body fluid in the lungs, the fluid to which Dr Andrews was referring was a naturally produced body fluid. (The pathologist who carried out the original post-mortem had not been called to give evidence in the trial. He stands by his view that the child died a cot death.)

Bryan Tully, a clinical psychiatrist, and an expert in police interview techniques, said that it was highly unlikely that someone of Ms Fletcher's level of intelligence would use a phrase like 'post natal depression.' It could have been the case, he suggested, that she had got the idea that, if she just pleaded guilty to infanticide, she believed she would not serve any sentence.
With this new evidence, leave for appeal was sought and granted. Just before Christmas, Lord Justice Russell gave permission for the defence to seek further evidence to be taken from another pathologist, Dr Iain West. Next week there will be fresh consultation between the experts at which stage the Crown will decide whether or not to contest the appeal.

Warwickshire police have criticised Rough Justice's programme, accusing it of 'inaccuracies and half-truths.' They have stated that the jury made their decision on the evidence in front of them and on the basis of a confession made by a woman who said she had killed her child. They say they will co-operate with any appeal.

Jacqueline Fletcher's father, Leslie, says he believes the appeal case is 'as strong as any case can be' and says he never believed his daughter had killed her child.

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