Mum branded baby killer despite quashed conviction

Jennifer Liehne. Picture: Lesley Donald
Jennifer Liehne. Picture: Lesley Donald
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A MOTHER cleared of suffocating her infant daughter more than 30 years ago today spoke of her fears that she would be “hounded” out of her new home after being branded a “baby killer” by a member of the public.

Jennifer Liehne spent four years in prison for the culpable homicide of seven-month-old Jacqueline, but was freed by appeal judges in 2011 after they ruled she did not receive a fair trial.

The 50-year-old said her life had been “dreadful” since her conviction was overturned and her notoriety has made it hard for her to move on.

The grandmother said public abuse had forced her to move on from Galashiels in the Borders in the months following her release from jail.

And having finally found an area where she thought she could leave her past behind she has now pleaded with the public to understand she is innocent and allow her to settle.

In the latest setback, Ms Liehne was sacked from a charity shop in her new home of Musselburgh following an altercation earlier this month.

She said: “People in Musselburgh have been really nice and I’d had no problems. I was trying to get on with my life and become involved in a community.

“I got the volunteering job at the shop six months ago and loved it.

“The staff were really nice and it gave me something to fill my days. I worked there seven days a week.

“I was working in the shop as normal when this man came in. He was a neighbour at the time my daughter died.

“I think he came in by chance but he saw me and started shouting ‘baby killer’ and telling the staff about the case.

“He kept saying someone who killed a baby should not be allowed to work there. There were elderly people and children there and he was making a scene.

“I started arguing with him to get him to stop. We both became involved in a shouting match and almost came to blows. The staff got both of us outside.”

Ms Liehne said she was dismissed from the post later that day.

She said: “I was told it wasn’t because I was in jail, but because I was involved in the argument with a customer.”

Appeal judges ruled that Ms Liehne had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice when she was jailed in 2006 for suffocating her seven-month-old daughter, Jacqueline, at a flat in Hyvot Avenue, Gilmerton, in 1982. Baby Jacqueline had been admitted to hospital a number of times because her mother found her “turning blue”. A post-mortem concluded Jacqueline had suffered a cot death, but later investigations found signs of bleeding in her lungs which experts said could have been caused by interference with her breathing.

The decision to reopen the case was prompted by city council social workers in 2001 when Ms Liehne became pregnant again, and two of her daughters had already been taken away and put into care.

It was suggested Ms Liehne may have been suffering from Munchausen’s by proxy syndrome, where adult carers induce symptoms of illness in a child to get medical attention. She was convicted after a jury heard evidence from doctors at the Sick Kids Hospital that they suspected she had been deliberately harming Jacqueline to get attention in the run-up to the baby’s death.

Ms Liehne was sentenced to ten years in prison but the term was later cut to seven years on appeal.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates possible miscarriages of justice, asked the appeal court to look at the case in February 2010.

In May 2011, judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh ruled that Ms Liehne did not get a fair trial because judge Lord Hardie failed to explain properly to the jury some of the complex medical and legal issues involved.

Ms Liehne said that she had been forced to leave Galashiels after receiving abuse from residents and feared the same might happen in Musselburgh. She said: “I was devastated to lose this job. Every time I try and move on the death of my daughter is brought up again. I just want people to realise I didn’t kill my daughter.

“My life has been dreadful and very unhappy since I won my appeal. I’m still getting judged as a baby killer by the public.

“I had to move from Galashiels because I was getting abuse from people who said I killed my daughter.

“When I go back to places in Edinburgh where people know me I also get abuse. No-one will believe I was wrongly convicted.”

Ms Liehne said that she was still awaiting a decision on compensation for the years of “absolute hell” she spent behind bars.

She added: “My lawyers said that I’m not guaranteed to get anything. I’d like something to support my family but nothing will bring back my daughter, or make up for the years I lost in jail.

“My life has not changed in many ways since the conviction was overturned. People still refuse to believe I’m innocent and my daughter is still gone.

“I feel my life is not worth living as I cannot settle down without the public judging me for something I didn’t do. Even though I was cleared by the court I’m still being punished.”

A shop spokeswoman said: “The incident left customers worried that it could have got more out of control and we did not want them to stay away over concerns it could be repeated. The decision would have been the same if any volunteer brought their personal life into the shop in such a way.

“Jennifer was an ordinary person who said she wanted to volunteer for a charity. I was unaware of her background but that wasn’t why the decision was taken. We give volunteers from all walks of life a chance to work in the shop and that’s why we have so many.”

Murder charge followed tragedy

May, 1982: Baby Jacqueline born to Ms Liehne, then 17, and partner William Smith.

December 20, 1982: Jacqueline dies of a suspected cot death brought on by pneumonia.

2001: The investigation into Jacqueline’s death is reopened by a paediatric pathologist when Ms Liehne falls pregnant again.

2002: Her newborn child is taken into care as investigators became convinced there is evidence of foul play over Jacqueline’s death.

2004: Ms Liehne charged with murder.

2006: Ms Liehne convicted of culpable homicide.

2011: Conviction overturned on appeal.

‘Nobody wants to believe the system could get it wrong’

VICTIMS of a wrongful conviction often struggle to re-adjust to life in the community.

John McManus, project coordinator at the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Mojo) said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was almost universal among victims.

He said: “I’d say that 99 per cent of wrongfully convicted people suffer from PTSD with symptoms like depression and anxiety. Unfortunately there’s a lack of care for the condition in Scotland and it’s very often undiagnosed. It can lead to addictions, health difficulties, and all too frequently suicide.

“When someone has a conviction overturned, public reaction can still be ‘no smoke without fire’. Nobody wants to believe the system could ever get it wrong.

“Those released can become isolated, even recreating prison environments in their homes. It’s a protection mechanism. Studies have found that when a guilty person spends five years in prison they will suffer psychological problems - the effect was ten-fold for the innocent.”

Mojo runs a Scottish Government-funded After Care project to help victims rebuild their lives with medical support and financial and social advice.

Mr McManus added: “Sometimes they only need short-term support. Others need help for years. Many just want to talk to others who have been through a similar ordeal.”