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Jim Cairns Advocated Child Snatching

November 20, 2007 permalink

In this article on Dr Charles Smith, the part we care about is at the end. Ontario's deputy chief coroner Dr. Jim Cairns prodded a children's aid society to remove a child from his parents.



Pathologist's work 'bordered on the bizarre': inquiry

Tom Blackwell, National Post

Monday, November 19, 2007

TORONTO -- Dr. Charles Smith's work verged on the bizarre, was sometimes hard to comprehend and showed signs of a "Sherlock Holmes" approach to his scientific discipline, a public inquiry heard Monday.

The discredited Ontario pathologist's record underwent a blunt post-mortem itself as a team of international experts began to dissect his flawed investigations in a series of child deaths.

Many of the pathologist's errors were not subtle miscues, but complete misinterpretations of evidence, the forensic pathologists from Britain and Alberta testified. That included the skull fracture Smith unexpectedly diagnosed from microscopic examination of tissue -- after issuing an autopsy report that said there was no such injury.

"To me, it's almost bordering on the bizarre that, on a chance finding looking down your microscope, you would find a skull fracture," said Dr. Jack Crane, head pathologist for Northern Ireland. "It's just incredible that this would happen."

Crane said he looked at the same tissue sample from the four-month-old baby known at the inquiry as Joshua, and concluded it was a "suture," one of the natural gaps in babies' skulls before the bone fuses together.

In the same case, Smith was quoted in notes by a police officer as saying that autopsy evidence suggested a right-handed person had pushed down on the infant's throat.

There was no science to justify such speculation, which seemed akin to "making it up," said Crane.

"That's sometimes referred to as the Sherlock Holmes approach to pathology," added Dr. Christopher Milroy, chief forensic pathologist with Britain's Forensic Science Service.

Smith had concluded Joshua died from asphyxia, possibly as a result of intentional suffocation. His mother, Sherry Sherret, was charged with first-degree murder, though she was later convicted of infanticide.

The pathologists agreed the cause of death should have been listed as undetermined. Sherret is now trying to get the conviction overturned.

At one point in the same case, Smith said he could not be sure about the cause of death but offered his opinion after saying "If I was a betting man, I would bet that it was ..."

Crane was frank in his assessment of such testimony. "This is not a day at the races," he said. "This was a totally inappropriate phrase to use."

Milroy lambasted the Ontario pathologist for his work in the case of Jenna, a 21-month-old girl whose mother, Brenda Waudby, was also charged with murder. Her charges were eventually dropped, and last year the girl's 14-year-old male babysitter pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Smith incorrectly estimated the time the fatal injuries occurred, diverting attention away from the teenage boy, he said. He also failed to turn over to police a key piece of evidence: a pubic hair found in the toddler's vagina, which turned up in the pathologist's office four years later.

"The situation that arose here, I just find it impossible to imagine it occurring in our system," said Milroy. "There is no way the hair would not have been seized ... There is no way it would have ended up in a pathologist's desk drawer."

The criticism was not isolated to one former pathologist. In the case of Nicholas, Smith said the 11-month-old Sudbury, Ont., boy died of a blunt-force injury that was probably intentional. Though his parents were not charged by police, the Children's Aid Society tried to take away a child born later. The outside experts say there was no basis for the finding, and the cause of death should have been listed as undetermined.

Crane blasted Dr. Jim Cairns, Ontario's deputy chief coroner, for writing a letter in support of the Children's Aid Society application to seize the other child, saying it was "quite inappropriate" for an independent judicial official to intervene on one side of a child-welfare case.

Source: National Post