Inquiry into convictions of Kathleen Folbigg for killing her four babies could be held in Newcastle

UPDATE: Public hearings in an inquiry into Kathleen Folbigg’s convictionsareunlikely to be held until late February or early March, a court has been told.
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EARLIER: A FORMER judge coulddecidetoday if an inquiry into the convictions of Hunter woman Kathleen Folbigg for killing her four babies will be held in Newcastle.

Former Chief Judge of the NSW District Court Reginald Blanch will hold a directions hearing in Sydney this morning,the first public hearing of an inquiry announced by Attorney-General Mark Speakman in August.

He will be asked to consider holding the inquiry in Newcastle rather than Sydney, although a decision might be deferred until a second directions hearing on November 15.

The inquiry will focus on evidence presented at a trial in 2003 that led to Folbigg’s convictions for the murder of three of her infant children and the manslaughter of a fourth at Singleton between 1989 and 1999.

Folbigg was sentenced to 30 years’ jail in 2003 for the manslaughter of her first child Caleb, 19 days old, and the murder of her three children Patrick, eight months, Sarah, 10 months, and Laura, 19 months, but has always maintained her innocence.

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Attorney General announces review into convictions of Kathleen FolbiggKathleen Folbigg ‘delighted, shocked’ at inquiry into her babies’ deathsA 2005 appeal to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal noted that each child died suddenly and unexpectedly because of “cessation of breathing”, butpost-mortems failed to establish exactly what had caused the cessation of breathing.

Central to the Crown case in 2003 was evidence that there were no known cases in the world of three or more children in the same family dying of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Mr Speakman said the inquiry will particularly focus on evidence relating to multiple child deaths in one family attributed to natural causes.

It followed a University of Newcastle Legal Centre investigation and petition that focused on the lack of evidence the babies were suffocated and the incidence of three or more baby deaths in the one family from unidentified natural causes.

“The petition appears to raise a question of the evidence that led to Ms Folbigg’s convictions in 2003,”Mr Speakman said in August.

“That question concerns evidence as to the incidence of reported deaths of three or more infants in the same family attributable to unidentified natural causes. Today’s decision is not based on any assessment of Ms Folbigg’s guilt.”

Mr Speakman said the distress that the decision to hold an inquiry would cause was “something that has weighed on me heavily”.

“This has been an immensely difficult decision. Put yourself in the position of Ms Folbigg’s ex-husband Craig,” Mr Speakman said.

Inquiry into convictions of Folbigg for killing her four babies could be held in Newcastle Convicted: Kathleen Folbigg after she was convicted of killing her four children.

Grief: Kathleen Folbigg’s former husband Craig leaves court after she was sentenced in 2003 to 40 years’ jail, later reduced on appeal to 30 years.

Convicted: Kathleen Folbigg during her trial.

Damning: Kathleen Folbigg’s sister Lea Brown gave damning evidence during her trial.

Appeal: Newcastle barristers Isabel Reed and Robert Cavanagh have headed a petition for a judicial review of her case.

Questions: University of Newcastle Legal Centre head Shaun McCarthy in 2013 after the centre took on the Folbigg judicial review case.

Support: Helen Cummings in 2015. She visits Folbigg in Cessnock jail each Saturday.

TweetFacebook The faces of the Folbigg story“The worst thing that can happen to anyone in their life is to lose a child. Just imagine what it must be like to lose four children. It has weighed on me. Whatever view you take of this case it is a tragedy beyond imagining that four beautiful children were lost.”

Mr Speakman said he announced the inquiry after forming the view it was necessary to ensure public confidence in the administration of justice.

Newcastle barrister Isabel Reed said the inquiryshowed a NSW justice system that was capable of responding to issues where there was evidence of a miscarriage of justice.

“I was 80 per cent confident that there would be an inquiry but there is room for a decision not to be made at all,” Ms Reed said.

“It could have just not happened but I was pretty confident there would be an inquiry. It would have been outrageous if a decision wasn’t made.”

Thechild abuse royal commission barristerwhogrilled Cardinal George Pell about his responses to allegations against other priests, Gail Furness, SC,has been appointed counselassisting the Folbigg inquiry.

The directions hearing will start at 10am in Sydney.

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