Baby death 'possibly natural' appeal told

Judges hearing a conviction appeal by a childminder found guilty of killing a baby in her care were told yesterday that natural causes for the death could not be ruled out.

Keran Henderson, of Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, who has always

protested her innocence, was present in court for a hearing she hopes will end in her name being cleared.

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Three Court of Appeal judges in London are being urged to rule that the 2007 manslaughter conviction which resulted in her being jailed for three years over the death of 11-month-old Maeve Sheppard was "unsafe".

The prosecution case at trial was that injuries suffered by Maeve were caused by violent shaking, but Henderson, who had seven years' experience as a childminder and was also a Beaver Scout leader, claimed the child had a seizure while she was changing her nappy.

At the start of an estimated three-day hearing, evidence was given to the court by consultant pathologist Professor James Morris, one of the country's leading experts in bacterial toxins in cot death cases.

Prof Morris, who gave evidence in the appeal of solicitor Sally Clark, told Lord Justice Moses, Mrs Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Hedley that in his opinion "the features in Maeve Sheppard's death are consistent with, but not diagnostic of, shaken baby syndrome".

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The judges heard that he also advanced the "proposition" that Maeve's cause of death "could have been due to one of the natural disease processes" which can cause an acute life-threatening event or "sudden unexplained death in infancy".

Prof Morris said that in the context of a sudden unexplained death "one cannot exclude natural, unknown disease".

He told the court: "There is a body of evidence which has been accumulated over many years that bacterial toxins can cause sudden collapse and sudden death in infancy."

Henderson was in sole charge of Maeve when she was taken to hospital unconscious and critically ill with brain injuries in March 2005.

A jury at Reading Crown Court convicted Henderson, a mother of two, of manslaughter by a majority of 10 to two at the end of a five-week trial.