Monday, August 30, 2021

The key piece of evidence jurors NEVER heard before finding 'child-killer' Kathleen Folbigg guilty for the deaths of her four children

A clear and dreadful miscarriage of justice

Kathleen Folbigg may not have spent the last 18 years behinds bars had the jury been told at least eight families around the world had suffered multiple sudden infant deaths, as world-leading scientists continue their quest to prove her innocence.

The woman considered to be Australia's worst female serial killer and 'most hated woman' was jailed in 2003 for the murders of her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura - aged from eight months to 19 months - between 1991 and 1999.

She was also found guilty of the manslaughter of her first-born child, Caleb, who was just 19 days old when he died in Newcastle in 1989.

Folbigg, 53, has always maintained her innocence and has the support of dozens of scientists and medical experts who have called for her to be pardoned from her 30-year jail term.

Following her most recent unsuccessful appeal for freedom, she has written a four page letter to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman urging him to 'soften his heart' as she pleaded again to walk free.

At Folbigg's trial in 2003, expert witnesses for the prosecution told the court that they didn't know of a single family in the world where three or more babies died suddenly of natural causes.

What the jury didn't hear is the same tragedy had happened to at least eight other families overseas.

Australian National University Professor of Immunology Carola Vinuesa was among the scientists tasked with analysing Folbigg's DNA and that of her four deceased children.

'At the time of Kathleen's trial, even though it has just been discredited, it still permeated the idea that four deaths in a family is just too rare,' she told 60 Minutes.

'Well, we know it isn't. These things happen.'

A genetic mutation called CALM2 G114R was found in Sarah and Laura's DNA, inherited from their mother, which can cause sudden cardiac arrest in infants.

Scientists in multiple countries ran biochemical and electrophysiological tests to prove the deadliness of the mutation.

The peer-reviewed findings were published in a world leading paper by Oxford University stating the mutation had 90 to 95 per cent chance of causing potentially fatal disease.

Professor Vinuesa believes 'it's very likely' that the Folbigg daughters died of a cardiac arrhythmia which led to sudden death.

'If that is not reasonable doubt, I don't know what is,' she said.

'The paper itself was co-authored by 27 scientists from seven different countries with experiments performed in at least four countries'

'The science was very strong. To date, there hasn't been a single criticism of the science.'

She is backed by Professor Peter Schwartz who's regarded as a world leader in cardiovascular genetics.

'The third and fourth deaths in that family were caused by calmodulin mutation,' he said.

'To find that is a smoking gun. It's hard to imagine it would be something else.

Scientists said the boys also had mutated genes which caused fatal epilepsy.

Former NSW District Court chief judge Reginald Blanch QC in 2019 found significant investigations had failed to find a reasonable natural explanation for any of the deaths of Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura. He ruled that it was beyond reasonable doubt that Folbigg was guilty.

Folbigg's own explanations and behaviour in respect of her diaries, which weren't available in any of the mother's criminal appeals, made 'her guilt of these offences even more certain', Mr Blanch concluded.

Folbigg's legal team has since sent her diaries to US research psychologist Dr James Pennebaker, who believes they show no premeditation for murder.

'There was no evidence for some kind of somebody who is devious, who is certainly planning to kill anyone,' he said.

He was shocked to learn that a judge couldn't find any reasonable doubt regarding her guilt by taking her diaries into account.

'I find that remarkable and I would urge them to look at the diaries in a different light,' he added.

Professor Vinuesa was among 90 scientists who signed a petition lodged with NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC earlier this year which called for Folbigg's pardon and immediate release.

'I think it's distressing, it's shocking really. I think it should bring an embarrassment to Australians like myself,' she said.

'But I still have the hope that, you know, like Australia of high integrity, this evidence, since the inquiry, and say that it's time to have the science prevail, and listen to the science.'

Following her latest unsuccessful bid for freedom, Folbigg has written to Mr Speakman about the overwhelming support she's had from the public and how her day-to-day existence has changed her following the petition for a pardon.

She paid tribute to the scientists in the four page handwritten letter obtained by The Australian.

'To them, this isn't only about helping Kathleen Folbigg but rather about a need for scientific proof to be listened to, respected and heeded,' she wrote.

'They have removed the stigma of being perceived as an evil monster, removed the anxiety and fear that I have suffered every day for over 30-odd years.'

Folbigg maintains her innocence and spent the last three decades mourning the loss of her four babies.

She also expresses her regret at not give evidence in person at her trial, a decision she continues to pay a heavy price for.

'(My supporters) have known me my whole life, not just a decade of it, and have witnessed the love and care for my children. Also my devastating grief,' Folbigg wrote.

'Please soften your heart.'

Until now, US mum Meredith Schoenherr has never spoken publicly about the tragic death of two-and-a-half-year-old son Jack from a rare genetic mutation in 2013. It was the same type of abnormality found in the Folbigg girls.

'I was so excited that he was sleeping late for once in his life, but I went into the bedroom and when I went to roll him over, it was very obvious that he was gone,' she told 60 Minutes.

She recalled how close the authorities were to taking Jack's baby sister away from her and her husband Todd, who were interviewed separately at the hospital shortly after their son's death. 'She separated us and had us each tell our story of what happened,' Ms Schoenherr recalled.

'I was so in shock, it didn't really occur to me at that point that they were investigating us.' 'In the early days, nobody had any answers, which was very frustrating.'

She felt sick to her stomach after hearing Folbigg's story and shudders to think she too could have been jailed over Jack's death.

To be jailed for so many years for it, on top of losing her children, it's really hard for me to even try to comprehend how much that must hurt,' Ms Schoenherr said.

Lifelong friend Tracy Chapman said being jailed for the deaths of her children have had a devastating impact on Folbigg.

'She's cried a river over it because, she didn't kill her children, even though she knows she didn't have a hand in killing her children, she carried a genetic mutation that has done just that, anyway, she said.

She remains hopeful her friend will see eventually see justice. Otherwise everything I ever believed in the Australian legal system goes out the window,' Ms Chapman said.


Catholic schools look at value of jewellery, cars before waiving fees for those in lockdown hot spots

Catholic schools are demanding details of parents’ furniture and jewellery before waiving fees for families struggling financially in lockdown hot spots.

Parents applying for fee relief must reveal how much they spend on food, groceries, internet, mobile phones and pay-TV each month.

Some schools expect families to fill in forms resembling bank loan applications, listing all assets including cars, jewellery, furniture, boats, motorbikes, trailers, and “personal effects’’.

Parents have to provide their latest tax return and financial statements, pay slips, credit card and bank statements and rental statements.

In some cases, families are forced to give schools permission to probe their social security details by contacting Centrelink.

A spokeswoman for National Catholic Education (NCE) said it would be “highly unusual to expect families to sell jewellery (or) furniture to pay for school fees if they are expecting financial hardship.’’

The Catholic Archdiocese of Parramatta - one of the dioceses demanding the personal details - said it was reviewing the form it currently sends to parents, after being contacted by News Corp Australia.

He said more than 3000 parents had been given fee relief in 2020.

“The form we are currently using for applications for assistance is under review with a focus on making sure the process is simpler,’’ a spokesman said.

“We acknowledge that some of the details ... are not needed, nor used to determine fee support and so these details are being removed from the form.

“Our dedicated team responds to requests for fee support with care and sensitivity, taking into account the personal circumstances of each family.’’


Education Queensland: Why our school information has become a state secret

Crucial school performance material has become a fiercely guarded state secret, with parents the big losers in the State Government’s move to quash the release of essential information.

Two major reports previously published by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority outlining every school’s NAPLAN and Year 12 results have been dumped entirely this year.

Until now, the QCAA released a detailed report outlining the OPs every student and school received, giving parents a comprehensive picture of each school’s performance.

It allowed parents to see both which schools had achieved the top academic results as well as how schools performed comparatively.

But under the new Queensland Certificate of Education system, where students are awarded an ATAR, only set of state-level data is publicly released.

Despite a vague promise from Education Minister Grace Grace that the release of each school’s median Year 12 ATAR score would be considered, parents are still in the dark months later.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk refused to comment on the information suppression, and yesterday handballed questions to Ms Grace.

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli slammed the move, and called for the information to be made public without delay.

“This information belongs to our parents, teachers and students and should be released in real-time,” he said. “Honesty, accountability and transparency matters to Queenslanders, particularly for parents when it comes to their children’s education.”

But Ms Grace claimed the new reporting system “has worked well”, and said no changes would be made. She said it was “inappropriate to use the information not in the matter it was produced”.

“The ATAR is the primary mechanism used nationally for tertiary admissions and as agreed by all education ministers should not be used to rank schools,” she said.

“Parents who wish to compare different schools have a wealth of information available to them, including the My School website and school annual reports.”

Teachers’ Professional Association of Queensland secretary Jack McGuire said parents deserved to know why such key reports were now being kept secret, calling it a “kick in the pants”.

He also hit back at QCCA boss Chris Rider’s assertion that schools would still get their own individual information.

“This isn’t new, its standard practice and it’s been happening for decades but a statement like that proves the transition to the new QCE system of ATAR rather than an OP in 2020 has led to the decision to dump the report,” he said.

“Common sense goes out the window in favour of political grandstanding and for all the wrong reasons.”

NAPLAN results were also now under lock and key, with the QCAA previously releasing every school’s result at the same time as the national data was available, which occurred this week.

School information will be uploaded in March next year to My School – almost nearly a year after the tests were held.


NSW Health switches to recording deaths 'with' instead of 'from' Covid

Long overdue

NSW Health has switched to recording patients as dying 'with' instead of 'from' Covid as it acknowledges not all of the country's 933 deaths were directly linked to the deadly virus.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty made the admission during Sunday's Covid briefing as the state recorded 1,218 new cases of coronavirus.

Six people died with Covid-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday bringing the total death toll of this outbreak to 89 death since June 16.

Dr McAnulty said the change in language was because it was 'very difficult to know' whether someone with Covid died from the virus, or another health complication.

'We know when elderly people die, they can have a range of comorbidities, and also, being old increases your risk of death,' he said.

'Covid may often play a role in the death, but it may not. Sometimes, some of our cases who have sadly died appear to have recovered from Covid, and then they have died of something [else].

'We report people who have died "with" Covid, unless there is a very clear alternative.'

He added that it was difficult for doctors who were looking after patients to know exactly how much the virus contributed to their death.

The symbolic change in language comes as NSW Health begins to acknowledge the country's 933 Covid deaths were not all direct results of the deadly virus.




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