Kathleen Folbigg was a loving mother of four children; Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura. On May 23, 2003, she was found guilty by jury of the murder of Patrick, Sarah and Laura, and guilty of the manslaughter of Caleb, in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
There was no physical evidence the children were murdered. The prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence to present their case. Kathleen has spent the last 15 years in prison and continues to maintain her innocence.
In June 2015, three Newcastle-based Barristers submitted a Petition to the Governor outlining grounds upon which Kathleen’s convictions should be reviewed. This Petition contains fresh and compelling evidence consistent with Kathleen’s innocence, including a report from one of Australia’s leading forensic pathologists who concluded that there is no basis in forensic pathology that any of the children were smothered.
Three years later, Kathleen and her supporters are still waiting for the Governor to respond to the Petition.
The first hearing block in the Kathleen Folbigg inquiry commenced on 14 November 2022 and was listed to run for two weeks.
However, it was adjourned today for three months to allow experts time to review new evidence that has been presented.
Genetic experts Mette Nyegaard and Michael Toft Overgaard travelled from Denmark to give evidence at the Inquiry. They are co-authors of research published in March 2021, which found a rare inherited genetic mutation, CALM2-G114R, may cause cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death in children.
The genetic mutation was found in Kathleen’s daughters Laura and Sarah. Their research discovered that the rare genetic mutation interferes with sodium and calcium levels, which are important for heart function.
“Would you say if it was ‘likely’ that the girls died by reason of the variant?” junior counsel assisting the inquiry, Julia Roy, asked the scientists.
“We think it is likely this mutation could have caused the death,” Overgaard said.
“It looks like a bad variant,” Nyegaard agreed.
Read an explanation of why CALM2-G114R can be deadly in Cosmos Magazine.
Chief justice Tom Bathurst has adjourned the inquiry until February 2023, noting that the parties involved in the inquiry needed time to process the evidence.
He described it as “new and quite exceptional” information.
We are hoping the truth – and science – will finally set Kathleen free.
As Kathleen’s friend Tracy Chapman notes about the new evidence: “Beyond reasonable doubt? Hell yes!”
The long-awaited Kathleen Folbigg Inquiry commences on 14 November 2022.
It will include evidence that indicates Kathleen’s two daughters, Laura and Sarah, inherited a genetic mutation on the CALM2 gene, a gene associated with cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death.
A study on the mutations was published in 2021 with evidence is so strong, a petition was signed by 90 eminent scientists, include two Nobel laureates – Professors Elizabeth Blackburn and Peter Doherty. The petition now has 151 signatures including world experts in cardiac arrhythmias.
As journalist Quentin McDermott notes in The Australian: “On Monday, the guilt or innocence of Kathleen Folbigg, a mother convicted of killing all four of her children, will come down to this: did the genetic variant she carries and which, scientists say, she passed on to two of her children trigger their deaths?
“That judgment will be made by a former chief justice of NSW, Tom Bathurst AC KC, as he presides over a fresh inquiry into her convictions that could see her walk free after 19 years in prison.”
Last year John Shine, a former president of the Australian Academy of Science, said: “We have very strong, robust scientific evidence that the mutations in these children could certainly have played a major role in their susceptibility to sudden death.”
Describing Kathleen as “a victim of the genetic lottery”, he added: “She’s extremely unlucky because the chance of having the particular mutation she’s got is very, very low. It’s almost non-existent in the rest of the population.
“However, once you have that mutation in the family, then your genetic blueprint has that mutation. And so the chance of passing that to your children and their children is incredibly high.”
While this scientific opinion by one of the world’s foremost genetic experts points to far more than reasonable doubt, McDermott points out that some argue this is another factor in play in whether Kathleen’s innocence will be acknowledged – “the crude political consideration of setting free a mother once labelled ‘the most hated woman in Australia'”.
“The signs are the Liberal NSW government is unlikely to free Folbigg if it can help it ahead of next year’s state election in March – and potentially the ultimate responsibility for deciding Folbigg’s fate may then fall to a Labor attorney-general. How sad if, in the end, it all comes down to politics,” McDermott writes.
The Inquiry will include face-to-face hearings in two blocks.
The first hearing block in the Inquiry will commence on 14 November 2022 and is listed for two weeks.
During the first hearing block, it is intended that cardiac and genetic evidence will be adduced.
The second hearing block in the Inquiry will commence on 13 February 2023 and is listed for two weeks. During the second hearing block, it is intended that psychology, psychiatry and other evidence relevant to Kathleen’s diaries will be adduced.
The hearing in the Inquiry will commence at 9am on 14 November 2022 and will take place on Level 4 of the Chief Secretary’s Building, 121 Macquarie Street, Sydney. Public entry to the Chief Secretary’s Building is via Bridge Street, Sydney.
The hearing in the Inquiry will be live-streamed on the Department of Communities and Justice Youtube channel here:
Limited seating is available for members of the public at the hearing. Members of the public are encouraged to view the proceedings online via the livestream.
Mother’s Guilt podcast series: The Kathleen Folbigg story
Have you listened to the Mother’s Guilt podcast series: The Kathleen Folbigg story.
The Mother’s Guilt eight-part podcast traces the case from the 1960s, starting with Kathleen’s childhood and teens and into her marriage to Craig and their four separate losses.
Kathleen’s friends from childhood, high school and during her marriage appear in episode two discussing their close bonds with her. They have maintained her innocence throughout the many years she has been in prison and hope the science presented in the inquiry finally sets her free.
The new inquiry into Kathleen Folbigg’s case will return to court in September for a directions hearing and Justice for Kathleen Folbigg is pleading with her former husband Craig to provide his DNA so that further testing can be conducted to ascertain the cause of death of their four children.
Initially, Craig Folbigg’s lawyer Danny Eid said his client was unable to fund his legal representation for the inquiry and was denied funding from the Attorney-General.
Last week NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman approved “discretionary funding” towards Craig Folbigg’s legal representation in the inquiry. However, the offer of funds has not compelled Folbigg to change his stance against taking part in the inquiry.
Friend Tracy Chapman said she was bewildered by Folbigg’s decision to withhold his DNA.
“It’s disappointing, but at the end of the day only Craig knows why,” she said.
“He has been told time and time again his DNA would be kept confidential, and it was not going to go on a database. You would think it would be a no-brainer.”
Here is a round-up of some of the stories.
Plea for ex-husband‘s DNA to exonerate Kathleen Folbigg
The Daily Telegraph writes:
Kathleen Folbigg’s ex-husband is under increasing pressure to provide his DNA, with top scientists saying his co-operation would provide vital information that could exonerate the woman jailed for killing their four infant children.
Craig Folbigg has indicated he will not give his DNA or attend the upcoming inquiry set down for November, citing a lack of funds for legal representation.
Geneticist Adjunct Professor Oliver Mayo from the University of Adelaide is a cosignatory to the Australian Academy of Science petition signed by 90 eminent scientists calling for Folbigg’s immediate pardon and release from jail based on the new evidence.
Mr Folbigg’s refusal to give a DNA sample was a missed opportunity to investigate if the couple’s two sons also inherited genetic mutations from the father’s side that could explain their deaths, Prof Mayo said.
The case against Folbigg, who was sentenced to 30 years with a non-parole period of 25 years, is a miscarriage of justice, according to scientists who argue the legal profession in Australia is behind other countries that have now reversed similar cases based on British Professor Roy Meadow’s rule of three – that “one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, until proved otherwise”.
Craig Folbigg, ex-husband of convicted child killer Kathleen Folbigg refuses to give a DNA sample
The Daily Mail writes:
The former husband of convicted child killer Kathleen Folbigg has refused to provide DNA evidence which could exonerate his ex-wife of the deaths of their four children more than two decades ago.
Ms Folbigg was convicted in 2003 of smothering her four children Patrick, Sarah, Laura and Caleb, yet new scientific evidence showed her daughters carried a mutation which causes heart irregularities, raising the possibility they died from natural causes.
Her bid for freedom will rely heavily on the strength of new genetic evidence but Craig Folbigg – Kathleen’s ex-husband – is declining to provide his DNA which experts said would provide ‘considerable assistance’ to their enquiry.
Geneticist behind Lindy Chamberlain freedom bid backs Folbigg DNA plea
The Australian writes:
The scientist whose evidence proved Lindy Chamberlain innocent is horrified that Kathleen Folbigg’s former husband has refused to provide DNA samples that could help show she was wrongly convicted of killing her four infant children.
Geneticist Barry Boettcher, who provided crucial blood evidence that cleared Ms Chamberlain of killing her daughter Azaria, said it was vital Craig Folbigg’s DNA be made available to the new inquiry probing fresh scientific evidence in the case.
“I think that it’s as serious as the Lindy Chamberlain case to me,” Professor Boettcher told The Australian. “Of course, to convict anyone of murder you want all the evidence possible and when there’s evidence that’s possible but not made available, I personally feel that it is a big drawback.
“In our society, there is no more serious charge than of murder and to uphold the charge of murder you would want every bit of information available.”
It has been wonderful to receive so many messages of support for Kath over the last 24 hours since it was announced that there would be a second inquiry into her case.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to let us know that they are with us in our fight for justice.
Kath has responded to the Attorney General’s statement in which he apologised for the grief he was causing Craig Folbigg, her ex husband.
Speakman noted: “I have also again spoken with their father Craig Folbigg to inform him about today’s decision; I am deeply sorry that yet again he and his family will have to re-visit their nightmare.”
Kath’s school friend Tracy Chapman spoke to her following the announcement.
She said: “Kath lives with the grief of losing her four children every day – just as her ex husband does.
“She thinks about her children constantly and the loss is further compounded daily by the reality that she’s a maximum security prisoner because in the eyes of the law she’s been convicted of the worst crimes imaginable.
“The fact there is another inquiry shows how compelling the new scientific and diary related evidence is.”
Speakman’s statement regarding the inquiry, which will be headed by the Honourable Chief Justice Bathurst, ended with the words: “Given this matter will now be the subject of an independent judicial inquiry, I do not propose to provide any further comment at this time.”
However, he told Channel 7 News that he could “well understand why members of the public may shake their heads and roll their eyes in disbelief about the number of chances that Ms Folbigg has had to clear her name”.
Our question to Speakman is: should an innocent woman simply shut up and accept her 25-year, non-parole period jail sentence when 150 scientists are supporting evidence that she should be pardoned? No amount of head shaking should stand in the way of science.
The official statement from the Australian Academy of Science regarding the announcement of a second inquiry reads: “While many Fellows of the Academy think there is overwhelming evidence to justify Ms Folbigg’s immediate release, we respect the Attorney General’s decision and the legal process he has decided on, which is to have a second Inquiry.
“The Academy welcomes the Attorney General’s invitation to attend the new Inquiry.
“The Academy intends to assist the Honourable Chief Justice Bathurst by making available suitable experts to advise on the medical, genetic, diary and probabilistic evidence. Given the complicated nature of the evidence, this will likely involve recruiting experts from around the world.
“While the new genetic evidence in this case has already been peer reviewed by other scientists, the Academy appreciates that the legal community has its own methods for testing evidence.
“The Academy will seek to facilitate that process as best it can and looks forward to receiving the draft terms of reference for the Inquiry from the Attorney General so it can assist in defining the scope of the Inquiry.”
Justice for Kathleen Folbigg was also saddened by the insensitive headlines printed by some newspapers yesterday, particularly an article by Matthew Benns in the Daily Telegraph that was headlined “Kid killer Folbigg in new review”. Surely the media should have examined the new evidence in the case well enough to have moved on from such casual cruelty?
As Quentin McDermott noted in The Australian: “For the past seven years at least, the NSW government has had solid evidence that there were serious doubts surrounding Folbigg’s convictions. In 2015, world-renowned forensic pathologist Stephen Cordner concluded that: ‘Ultimately, and simply, there is no forensic pathology support for the contention that any or all of these children have been killed, let alone smothered.’
“Almost certainly, by announcing a second inquiry, Speakman has effectively delayed any final decision until after the state election next March. That means if eventually Folbigg is freed, he may well not be the one to announce it.
“And his decision begs more questions than it answers. Despite asserting ‘there is a need for fairness and transparency to all’, Speakman refused to release the legal advice he has received. One can only guess at what that legal advice says, what course of action it recommends, and whether he has followed that advice.”
The team at Justice For Kathleen Folbigg were both elated and disappointed by the announcement today that a second inquiry would be held into her convictions.
We are elated to finally receive a response from Attorney-General Mark Speakman. We are disappointed that Speakman chose to call for another costly inquiry when the evidence is clear that Kathleen’s children carried fatal genetic mutations.
His decision to only reference Kathleen’s ex-husband Craig and his family’s trauma in his statement also shows a blatant disregard for the suffering that Kathleen has endured.
The announcement follows a petition to the Governor of NSW that called for Kathleen Folbigg’s immediate pardon and release.
The petition was endorsed by the Australian Academy of Science and supported by more than 150 scientists, including Nobel laureates professors Elizabeth Blackburn and Peter Doherty. It argued that fresh genetic evidence showed that ‘has been wrongfully incarcerated because the justice system has failed her’.
It took Speakman 14 months to respond to the petition. Here is the full statement he released this afternoon:
On my recommendation, Her Excellency, the Hon Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of NSW, has directed a second inquiry into the convictions of Ms Kathleen Megan Folbigg.
The Governor has appointed recently retired Chief Justice, the Hon Thomas Bathurst AC QC, to conduct the inquiry.
In 2003, Ms Folbigg was convicted of the homicides of her children Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura following a trial by jury. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeal imposed a total sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 25 years.
In addition, this matter has seen several unsuccessful appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal, a number of applications to the High Court, the 2018-2019 inquiry, and in relation to that inquiry’s findings, a discontinued application for special leave to the High Court following a judicial review by the Court of Appeal.
The deaths of Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura have caused immeasurable and continuing grief to their family and the community. I have written to Ms Folbigg’s legal representatives to advise them of the decision. I have also again spoken with their father Craig Folbigg to inform him about today’s decision; I am deeply sorry that yet again he and his family will have to re-visit their nightmare.
Since the inquiry in 2018-2019 conducted by the Hon Reginald Blanch AM QC, a fresh petition has sought the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy to grant Ms Folbigg a pardon.
The petition refers to developments in genetic science in respect of the CALM2 genetic mutation found in Sarah and Laura Folbigg. Among other grounds, the petition argues this has provided an updated cause of death for both Sarah and Laura.
Although the original 2018-2019 inquiry was aware of the mutation, there was no completed study as to the functional effects of that mutation at that time. Such a study has now been completed. Notwithstanding that Ms Folbigg has already had numerous attempts to clear her name, this new evidence, and its widespread endorsement by scientists, cannot be ignored.
However, I declined to recommend to Her Excellency that she pardon Ms Folbigg. Ms Folbigg’s representatives contend that the new scientific evidence is compelling. However Ms Folbigg has been unsuccessful in numerous public proceedings to date and there is a need for fairness and transparency to all. Against that backdrop, it would not be appropriate for the Governor now simply to grant a pardon, or (for example) for the Governor or me to receive private briefings from experts with a view to considering granting a pardon, without that evidence being scrutinised independently in a public forum. Only a transparent, public and fair inquiry can provide a just resolution of the doubt or question raised by that new evidence.
I thank Mr Tim Game SC, Ms Joanna Davidson and Ms Kathleen Heath for their advice and assistance in this matter.
Ms Folbigg continues to serve her sentence of imprisonment. At the conclusion of the inquiry, Mr Bathurst will prepare a report. If he is of the opinion that there is a reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt, Mr Bathurst may refer the matter to the Court of Criminal Appeal for further consideration.
Given this matter will now be the subject of an independent judicial inquiry, I do not propose to provide any further comment at this time.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman continues to stall his decision on the petition to the Governor of NSW that calls for Kathleen Folbigg’s immediate pardon and release.
The petition was endorsed by the Australian Academy of Science and supported by more than 150 scientists, including Nobel laureates professors Elizabeth Blackburn and Peter Doherty. It argued that fresh genetic evidence showed that ‘has been wrongfully incarcerated because the justice system has failed her’.
Speakman’s only comment when approached by News Corp last week was: “I have received detailed advice from senior and junior counsel regarding the various issues raised in relation to the petition. The matter and advice have been carefully reviewed and I expect to make an announcement shortly.”
Journalist Quentin McDermott notes in The Daily Telegraph that Kathleen could possibly face five potential outcomes arising from the petition, although her legal team considers that there is only one outcome supported by the evidence: a pardon.
PARDON AND RELEASE
Speakman can recommend to the NSW Governor that the petition should be granted, and that Kathleen should be pardoned and released. The NSW Government says that: “Some examples of extraordinary circumstances in which pardons have been granted include wrongful convictions, where new methods of forensic evidence raise significant questions as to the petitioner’s guilt.”
Kathleen’s legal team says her case “fits this definition exactly, because of the new genetic evidence.”
If Kathleen is released, Speakman can also refer her case to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, for her convictions to be quashed.
REFERRAL TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEAL
Even if Kathleen isn’t pardoned and released, Speakman can refer her case to the Court of Criminal Appeal for her convictions to be quashed, based on the fresh evidence contained in her petition.
Kathleen’s legal representatives will not oppose such an application. They expect that if a referral is made by Speakman, it will be based on his conclusion that her convictions should be quashed, and that the application will not be opposed by the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions.
Speakman can deny the petition to pardon and release Kathleen.
If he does so, almost certainly it will cause a storm of protest from the science community, backed strongly by the Australian Academy of Science, which has offered to assist Speakman by providing experts to help him assess the fresh genetic evidence. Speakman has turned down their offer.
Professor John Shine, President of the Australian Academy of Science, told News Corp: “Internationally, other mothers wrongly convicted of murdering their children based on the improbability that multiple infants can die in the one family from natural causes have been released.”
He said Kathleen is “the last known woman to remain in prison because of this discredited assumption. She remains incarcerated despite the new clear scientific evidence.
“I again call on the NSW Attorney General to make an evidence-informed decision, based on the strong, new scientific evidence demonstrating Ms Folbigg’s innocence, and release her from prison.”
SECOND INQUIRY ORDERED
An inquiry into Folbigg’s convictions in 2019 ended with the inquiry’s Commissioner, a former Director of Public Prosecutions and Chief Judge of the NSW District Court, Reginald Blanch, reporting that his investigations had “produced evidence that reinforces Ms Folbigg’s guilt,” – a conclusion which has been hotly contested by Folbigg’s supporters and by the science community ever since.
It is open to Speakman to order a second inquiry, following the submission of fresh evidence in the petition. But Kathleen’s lawyers argue that “is unnecessary because full details and evidence have already been provided to the Attorney General.”
The last Inquiry in 2019 heard evidence from Professor Vinuesa and others that the genetic mutation they had discovered was “likely pathogenic”.
But despite this discovery, Blanch refused to reopen the inquiry to hear further evidence about the CALM2 G114R variant. Later experiments would demonstrate that the variant is indeed lethal.
The final option which Speakman may have considered, is to grant Folbigg early parole. In this eventuality, her release would be conditional, and her convictions would stand.
It would be a decision which sets Kathleen free but without necessarily acknowledging the new science which, her legal team argues, permits a pardon to be granted.
Her lawyers say: “Taking this course would indicate a refusal to consider properly the fresh evidence and apply the law.”
Read Quentin McDermott’s full, compelling news article here.
How you can help
If you live in NSW, send a letter to your local members of the NSW Parliament demanding they speak to Speakman on your behalf and table a related question asking when he will provide a decision on Kathleen’s pardon petition.
Your local members of parliament are located here.
Here is a sample letter to use:
Dear [insert local member’s name],
I write as a member of your electorate to draw your attention to the case of Kathleen Folbigg. I request that you raise the issue of Ms Folbigg’s ongoing incarceration with the NSW Attorney General, Mr Mark Speakman and that you raise the issue in parliament in the next sitting period.
Kathleen Folbigg was convicted in 2003 for the murder of three of her children and the manslaughter of her firstborn. From 1989 to 1999, Kathleen Folbigg’s four children – Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura – all died at different ages. All four children had autopsies and they were diagnosed with dying from natural causes.
Despite no signs of murder detected at autopsy, the prosecution claimed Ms Folbigg smothered all her children. Selected entries from Ms Folbigg’s private diaries were cited to establish her guilt.
In November 2020, new genetic evidence became available through functional testing of a mutation identified in Ms Folbigg and her two daughters. A study conducted by 27 scientists from several countries was published in the prestigious Oxford University journal, EP Europace. The study concluded that CALM2 G114R is pathogenic, and thus there is a >99% certainty that the mutation was responsible for the death of both Sarah and Laura.
Over a year ago, on 3 March 2021, a petition was sent to the NSW Governor and the Attorney General requesting that Ms Folbigg be pardoned based on evidence of natural causes of death and an absence of any evidence of smothering. This was strongly supported by the new studies that provided a genetic basis for the cause of death for Sarah and Laura. The petition has been backed by more than 150 leading scientists and doctors worldwide, including three Australian Nobel Prize Laurates.
In the interests of the accurate assessment of science generally, but also, in this case, the Australian Academy of Science wrote to Mr Speakman to offer him and those advising him a briefing about the new genetic evidence. Eight of the world’s best experts offered their time to Mr Speakman pro bono, to explain in detail and answer any questions about the new genetic findings. Mr Speakman declined this offer.
3 March 2022 marked the one-year anniversary of the petition requesting Ms Folbigg be pardoned. For over a year, Mr Speakman has had significant, probative evidence pointing to an innocent woman in prison wrongfully. Mr Speakman said in budget estimates on 16 March 2022 that he would say something “within a month”. The deadline of 16 April 2022 has now passed.
There is an innocent woman languishing in prison for crimes that science has proven never occurred. I do not want to live in a state or country which allows an innocent woman to remain in prison despite strong scientific evidence of innocence.
I ask you as my local member /NSW Attorney General / NSW Shadow Attorney General to raise this important case with the NSW Attorney General and demand he respond to the pardon petition immediately.
I can be contacted on [insert contact details].
I look forward to hearing from you.
As journalist Quentin McDermott so poignantly wrote at The Weekend Australian: “One year ago this week, in a world first, two Nobel prize winners backed a petition to the Governor of NSW calling for the pardon and release of a woman once viewed as Australia’s most notorious ‘child killer’ – Kathleen Folbigg.
“Last year’s petition was endorsed by the Australian Academy of Science, and supported by more than 150 scientists, including Nobel laureates professors Elizabeth Blackburn and Peter Doherty. It argued, with the benefit of fresh genetic evidence, that Folbigg ‘has been wrongfully incarcerated because the justice system has failed her’.
“Twelve months on, the petitioners are still awaiting a decision.”
The responsibility for that decision lies primarily with NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman. He argues that he is taking so long because the petition and its accompanying submissions are “complex and voluminous”. However, he has refused offers of assistance from the scientific community.
Her lawyers Rhanee Rego and Dr Robert Cavanagh describe the “delay is astounding, the process opaque and the lack of willingness to work with scientists, inexplicable”.
In a message delivered to The Weekend Australian, Kathleen said: “I am saddened and extremely disappointed that there is no response at the 12-month mark from Mr Speakman in relation to the pardon petition and the overwhelming supporting scientific and medical evidence … I am an innocent woman, and a mother who has lost her family under heartbreaking circumstances, still sitting in a maximum-security prison after nearly 19 long and challenging years.”
Read Quentin’s compelling article here.
On Friday, the Australian Academy of Science released a letter it had sent to the NSW Attorney-General stating: “The new indisputable genetic evidence establishes Ms Folbigg’s innocence beyond reasonable doubt.”
“The options before you are simple: respect the scientific and medical evidence that provide ample justification of the pardon of Ms Folbigg and demonstrate that you take seriously your responsibility to provide justice to the people of NSW or deny justice by denying science and place under a cloud the integrity of the NSW justice system,” says the letter, which is co-signed by the academy’s outgoing president, John Shine, and four other professors.
Kathleen’s legal team has asked NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan to hold a coronial inquest into the deaths of all four children.
Childhood friend Tracy Chapman hopes a coronial inquest will help set the record straight.
“Kath’s told me nobody appears to be listening to any of the scientists, the linguists, the medical and mental health experts …,” Tracy told the ABC.
“This is just devastating and astonishing. That the experts who have looked deeply at this case can be ignored should scare us all.”
Kathleen wants a coronial inquest to give her children the epitaph they deserved and wants to help others.
“The most important thing to Kath right now is that the cutting-edge science that proves her innocence will help other families deal with similar genetic anomalies, to avoid heartbreaking catastrophes,” Tracy said.
Happy New Year to everyone who shares our hope that Kathleen Folbigg will finally be given her freedom in 2022.
We have almost reached 2000 signatures on our petition that calls on NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman to release her NOW!
Kath wanted us to share a special message with you:
“To all my lovely supporters, advocates, scientific geniuses, medics, therapists and legal eagle minds that have travelled parts of this damn long road with me …I wish you all well and hope that 2022 brings all of us our wishes, desires, wants and even basic needs that we are all yearning for. I hope that everyone’s health stays strong and we all strive each day to be a better version of ourselves. My appreciation, gratitude, love and adoration is as strong as always. Love, Kath.”
2021 was a huge year for Kath – her case is now internationally recognised and the scientific community both here and abroad has rallied behind our calls for justice. So many people across the world are asking really important questions about why and how Kath was ever convicted, why she remains in prison and what the NSW legal system is doing.
We still have no answers. The Attorney General’s delay is unjustifiable and he continues to be silent.
We will not give up – human rights and dignity are important for everyone including Kath. She may just be a woman from Singleton to those in power; just one person, but to us she is our friend and she is a kind, loving person who has been treated so poorly by those who should have done better.
This case is bigger than just Kath – she is an example of a failure of the legal system. It is profoundly sad that those in power continue to leave an innocent woman languishing in prison even when they have clear evidence in front of them of Kath’s innocence. Our fight is to improve the system for us all – for our children, their children and ourselves.
That being said, so many great things happened in 2021. 60 Minutes produced two programs (plus an ‘extra minutes’ segment) on Kath which you can watch here:
Discovery Channel aired a documentary to 80 million viewers worldwide (unfortunately not to Australia just yet) entitled “The Baby Killer Conspiracy”. This is an excellent program which talks about Kath’s case, and the tragic UK cases of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings which are very similar to Kath’s.
The Australian Academy of Science, Cosmos Magazine, the Age Examine and Australian Science Media Centre all listed Kath’s case in their top stories for 2021! Kath’s story has been shared thousands of times across the world and featured in places like the New York Times, Washington Post, on CNN and in countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, China and India. The level of support from science and the media has been unprecedented. Here are some of the stories:
Further media stories, books and documentaries are coming. The interest in this case is only growing and people are seriously wondering why the NSW legal system is unprepared to listen to science and act on this miscarriage of justice. The role of all players in Kath’s conviction and maintenance of her incarceration are under the microscope.
We will share the legal team’s submissions in support of the petition soon. These submissions are clear on why Kath’s case is a miscarriage of justice and why her immediate release is the only reasonable way forward.
Please continue to spread the word about Kath’s case. Those in power need to know that this is not going away and the fight will continue. Whenever you post about Kath’s case, please use the hashtag #justiceforkathleenfolbigg
Please ask your friends and family to sign the petition and share it around.
More voices have been added to the growing support for Kathleen Folbigg’s immediate release, with Lawyer’s Weekly releasing an update on her case, an in-depth investigation by Wired and a new documentary on the way.
Lawyer’s Weekly writes: “A ground-breaking development within clinical practice that indicates a natural cause of death for two of Kathleen Folbigg’s children is further evidence that she has spent the last 19 years behind bars for a crime she never committed, her solicitor tells Lawyers Weekly in this exclusive look at likely our worst miscarriage of justice yet.
“Earlier this year, a legal team behind Ms Folbigg circulated a petition containing new research into an unreported cardiac mutation found in two of her children, Sarah and Laura, that explains how they likely died from natural causes. In a development shared with Lawyers Weekly, that mutation has been added to the list of mutations in ClinVar, a worldwide authoritative database used by clinicians and geneticists.
“Put another way, if the mutation – referred to as the CALM2 G114R gene – is found in an infant who dies without explanation, a genetic counsellor will inform the families that it is the cause of death. Ms Folbigg’s lawyer, Rhanee Rego, said not only would this bring families some certainty, but it would lead to better options for people to start preventative therapy that was not available to Ms Folbigg over two decades ago.
“Today, Kathleen, who has the CALM2 G114R mutation but is affected differently by it (given her cardiac history), would be counselled that she could consider having a cardioverter device implanted to avoid having a fatal cardiac arrest,” Ms Rego said, adding that ‘it’s hard to emphasise just how important [the ClinVar addition] is because it has the capacity to save lives across the world’.
“In addition to saving countless lives, the addition of CALM2 G114R to ClinVar is an “important breakthrough” for science and solidifies that the two female Folbigg girls died from the lethal mutation, rather than the crimes their mother was convicted for.”
“I very strongly urge the Attorney-General and those advising him to expedite this matter and not let an innocent woman spend her 19th Christmas in prison. Look at the cold, hard, verifiable scientific facts that lead to the only reasonable conclusion: there is an innocent woman languishing in prison for crimes she did not commit,” Ms Rego said.
Why this renowned forensic pathologist fights for Kathleen
Wired has published an article that explores Carola Garcia de Vinuesa’s involvement in the case, after being asked to examine the evidence in 2018.
It reveals that in her email to the lawyer, Carola wrote: “As a mother, I cannot think of any more worthy cause to invest time and effort in. I find it hard to believe there is someone sitting in jail for this.”
It also notes that in 2013, Stephen Cordner, a renowned forensic pathologist at Melbourne’s Monash University wrote up a 112-page report arguing that the facts more strongly supported natural causes than smothering—the evidence for which was zilch. In a veiled criticism of the expert testimony in Kathleen’s case from 2003, he wrote, “There is no merit in forcing certainty where uncertainty exists.”
Wired writes: “In June 2015, Folbigg’s legal team delivered an official petition, including Cordner’s report, to the attorney general’s office in Sydney, where it sat for three years. Finally, on August 22, 2018, attorney
general Mark Speakman announced that an official inquiry would take place the following year.”
In 2018, a technician in Vinuesa’s lab put samples of Kathleen’s DNA through a genetic sequencing and discovered a mutation in Kathleen’s CALM2 gene. CALM2 is one of three genes in the calmodulin family, which among other things help regulate the heart’s expansions and contractions. Other calmodulin variants have been associated with severe cardiac disorders and sudden death in infancy.
“Professionally, Vinuesa had little to gain from spending her free time investigating the genome of a convicted killer. But seeing that mutation in the CALM2 gene triggered in her a sense of duty.
“In December, Vinuesa finished her report on the CALM2 variant and sent it to Folbigg’s lawyers. They passed it on to inquiry officials in the government. Soon, Vinuesa was traveling to Sydney to meet with a
handful of other scientists who had been assigned to the case. Officials with the New South Wales attorney general’s office had asked these scientists—some of whom worked for the government—to conduct a separate genetic investigation.
Vinuesa, eager to share her results on CALM2, told them what she’d found. To her surprise, she sensed in a few of the scientists in the room some conservatism—even animosity—toward her approach.
In February 2019, Vinuesa found in Laura and Sarah precisely the same CALM2 mutation as in Kathleen and wrote a report saying the novel CALM2 variant was “likely pathogenic.”
In March, the Folbigg inquiry hearings began at the Forensic Medicine and Coroner’s Court in Sydney’s western suburbs. Vinuesa and several of the geneticists came to testify.
Wired reports that the members of the Sydney team were seated on an elevated platform, while Vinuesa and her colleague were instructed to sit to the side at a small table and her credentials were questioned.
“I was introduced in a way that was disqualifying from the outset,” she said. “I felt it, and I was so angry.”
A little while later, a pediatric cardiologist named Jonathon Skinner, who had assessed the cardiac health records of Folbigg and her children, was called to testify. At one point, Furness asked him about
the CALM2 gene. Skinner responded that because Kathleen showed no evidence of cardiac disease, to suggest it had killed her daughters was “stretching credibility.”
“In the weeks after her testimony, Vinuesa spent several sleepless nights going over what had happened in court.
“One night, when she was home and obsessing over the case, Vinuesa emailed a handful of cardiac geneticists for their opinion on the CALM2 variant. One of them was Peter Schwartz, a cardiovascular geneticist at Italy’s Istituto Auxologico Italiano and an expert on life-threatening heart defects caused by mutations of the CALM genes.
“When Schwartz replied, his email held a bombshell: He had just published a paper reviewing the International Calmodulin Registry, a large, collaborative effort to enlist every person with a disease-causing mutation in the CALM genes. One family, he wrote, had variant in another CALM gene that looked almost identical to the Folbigg mutation. In this family, two children had suffered cardiac arrest at ages 4 and 5, and one of them had died. Their mother, from whom they inherited the mutation, was seemingly healthy.”
However, the Sydney team “seemed to have made their minds up and were not willing to accept this new evidence”.
Wired writes: “Reginald Blanch, the judicial officer presiding over the inquiry, was left with a decision to make. The Sydney team and the Canberra team had submitted conflicting expert opinions. When Blanch
delivered his decision in July of 2019, his language was unmistakably subjective.”
The night Vinuesa read the inquiry report, she couldn’t believe it. In the middle of the night, she woke up weeping.
“She thought about Folbigg: If this woman was in fact innocent, her suffering must be beyond comprehension,” Wired notes.
There was only one option left: to petition the governor of New South Wales to enact the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. In other words, to grant Kathleen a pardon. In March, Folbigg’s legal team drafted the petition and sent it to eminent scientists around the world to sign. So far, they have collected more than 100 signatures, including from several of the world’s leading cardiac geneticists and two Nobel laureates.
“The petition—like the appeals that came before it—argues that the new evidence on the CALM2 variant raises reasonable doubt about Folbigg killing all four of her children. To keep Folbigg in prison would
be to establish a dangerous precedent, ‘as it means that cogent medical and scientific evidence can simply be ignored in preference to subjective interpretations of circumstantial evidence.
“The petition awaits review in the office of the New South Wales attorney general, Mark Speakman. Vinuesa and many of her peers insist the science is clear—CALM2 is now in the medical literature as a genetic cause of SIDS. The investigation of Folbigg’s DNA had helped to advance scientific knowledge. But Folbigg’s own fate remains uncertain.
Vinuesa finally met Kathleen earlier this year and admits she couldn’t help but feel she had let her down.
“Vinuesa told Folbigg she had hoped to say goodbye on a happier note,” Wired writes. “Folbigg told her that the petition alone had improved her life in prison. After it became public, she said, she received a letter from
other inmates telling her she was now welcome to join them in the main section of the prison. They believed her to be innocent.”
Professor Carola has also spoken on UK radio about the case.
New documentary on the way
Additionally, another documentary is about to be commissioned in Denmark on the case, which will start filming here in early February, as the eyes of the world begin to focus on this terrible miscarriage of justice.
It follows the two-part Discovery Channel/BBC documentary released in November: The Baby Killer Conspiracy.
It tells the story of three mothers who were given life sentences based on one man’s killer statistic. Now one of these women is dead, one is free and one, Kathleen, is still in prison.
In 1998, Professor Sir Roy Meadows stated that unless proven otherwise, the chances of three babies from the same mother dying of natural causes were 1 in 73 million. After British solicitor Sally Clark suffered the devastating loss of her second baby, Meadows’ Law was used to arrest and convict her of murdering both of her children. In 2002, supermarket worker Angela Cannings was also jailed after the death of her third child. In what can only be described as a modern-day witch hunt, Meadows’ Law set a default position that multiple infant deaths in one family is so rare that it had to be murder, and was used to arrest grieving mothers across the world and presented in Kathleen’s trial.
Meadows’ evidence was eventually discredited and Sally Clark was freed.
Although she never got her life back, her release contributed to three other British mothers having their convictions overturned.
Clare Laycock, SVP Planning & Insights, Head of Entertainment at Discovery, said it was an important and gripping documentary series that confronts the devastating miscarriages of justice still impacting women today.
PICTURED MAIN: ART BY MARIE SMITH, VIA WIRED
Associate Professor of Linguistics at Macquarie University David Butt has told 60 Minutes he believes it is not reasonable to claim that Kathleen Folbigg’s diaries support only one ‘damning’ interpretation.
Butt said he did not subscribe to the belief that the diaries are a “virtual confession”. He added that his conclusion after reading the diaries was that there was reasonable doubt. He suggested the police and prosecutors should have approached her case with the mandate of “innocent until proven guilty”.
“If you start out with the presumption of guilt, you can find it,” he cautioned.
Butt was among four leading experts who analysed Folbigg’s diaries have formally submitted their opinions to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC, and to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman, as part of a petition originally lodged in March – and which has now been backed by 155 eminent scientists, science advocates and medical experts from around the world – calling for her to be pardoned and released.
“There is a likelihood that the courts and Inquiry have misinterpreted the feelings of responsibility for not being a better mother as admissions of agency in the deaths of the children,” he noted in the formal submission.
“I am comfortable in describing Ms Folbigg as having been a very loving and attentive mother …,” psychotherapist Dr Kamal Touma said.
“After reading and analysing the minute particulars of Ms Folbigg’s diaries and having met her for five analytical psychotherapy sessions, I cannot see anything in the diaries or from my sessions with Ms Folbigg to indicate that she harmed her children.”
Dr Touma had five audiovisual consultations with Folbigg and concluded that “the painful aloneness of being dissociated with and from her feelings is illustrated by this simple heartbreaking entry in her diary the day her daughter Sarah died: MONDAY 30: SARAH LEFT US.”
But Dr Touma rejects the notion that she may have killed her children in severe dissociative, fugue like states.
“Nowhere in the diaries nor in my conversation with Ms Folbigg was this observable,” he said. “I can comfortably exclude this hypothesis.”
When Dr Touma spoke to Folbigg, he was struck by how she spoke about her children.
“A written transcript cannot reflect what we may call the ‘musicality’ of the moment where immersed in associative thinking she talked about her children. This is the true memories she keeps of her children and wasn’t since losing them able to access to express. This is not how a murderous mother would ever talk about her children,” he said.
A second expert, US-based psychologist and textual analyst Professor James W. Pennebaker, who has helped the FBI and CIA understand the language of kidnappers, terrorists and violent criminals, said: “I see absolutely no evidence to suggest that these were premeditated murders.
“I see no evidence that Kathleen Folbigg’s language … exhibited any signs of deception or attempts to cover anything up. I also see no sign that Folbigg is mentally unstable or is someone harbouring buried hostility or rage,” Prof Pennebaker said.
A third expert, consultant psychiatrist Associate Professor Janine Stevenson, said: “Nowhere in her journals does she use agency verbs, such as ‘I hurt her’ … Throughout the journal Ms Folbigg is detailing all the steps she took to ensure the safety of her children. There is no anger, no aggression, only self-doubt.”
Watch Butt’s interview below:
Kathleen Folbigg has spent 18 years behind bars on the basis of discredited evidence and presumptions about her diaries that are not supported by experts. It’s time for the NSW justice system to admit it made a mistake.