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A Contribution to the Evaluation of Recent Developments in the Investigation of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy

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This report offers a contribution to the evaluation of a new protocol for the multiagency investigation of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) introduced by the UK Government in April 2006. The research utilises primarily qualitative interviews with a sample of police, health and other professionals but also includes observational fieldwork at seminars and professional’s meetings. There has been no previous evaluation to date and this paper suggests some areas where further early research would be useful. The main challenge for professionals working on the medico-legal investigation of infant deaths is to reduce to an absolute minimum the number of cases where, after a thorough enquiry, no-one is able to say why the child died. Previous research studies have revealed that the classification Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (meaning no cause of death found) was used a great deal up to and including the late 1990s. A watershed event was the appeal court acquittal of Angela Cannings who had previously been convicted of murdering two of her babies. This,
together with three other similar cases, caused a huge amount of public and judicial concern, leading to a complete examination and overhaul of the system for investigating SUDI. This research report reveals a marked improvement in infant death investigation, and in particular the fact that the proportion of all infant deaths classified as SIDS has now reduced considerably. This is a tangible measure of success because there will be less chance that homicides remain undetected, and where there is no maltreatment of the child (which is the majority of cases), the parents are able to understand why their child died. The research did, however, also reveal some concerns around the implementation of the new protocol, and the conclusions offered to policy-makers areas where further guidance and training is needed. The paper provides some discussion on the concept of the police investigation of infant deaths and offers some thoughts on the main differences between an adult sudden death investigation and that of a child. This research should be seen as exploratory and because of the limited number of respondents who form the research sample, care is taken not to “over–claim” the findings. It does however, provide a basis for future research into specific areas of multi-agency working
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Surrey
Number of pages78
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2008

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