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The science of crime

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The case of Colin Norris, the nurse jailed for at least 30 years in 2008 for the murder of four elderly patients, was highlighted in a BBC Panorama investigation last month.

The key evidence advanced by the Prosecution surrounded the insulin levels recorded in the four victims. Bridget Bourke, Irene Crookes, Ethel Hall and Doris Ludlam were found to have dangerously low levels of blood sugar. A fifth victim, Vera Wilby, also suffered a hypoglycaemic episode but recovered later to die of an unrelated cause. None were suffers of diabetes. The Prosecution argued there must have been a criminal element for such a rare condition to occur in five patients and alleged that Mr Norris must have injected the victims, causing their deaths.

Fresh scientific evidence has now been identified which could cast doubt on the safety of the convictions. It appears that the amount of insulin required to cause the levels found in the blood would require an “unrealistic” amount to be injected - in the order of 1.8 pints according to endocrinologist Professor Terry Wilkin.

Secondly, Dr Adel Ismail, retired clinical biochemist, highlighted the potential cause of the deaths as a rare condition known as Insulin Autoimmune Syndrome (IAS). At trial the Prosecution experts deemed this condition too rare. Professor Wilkin now confirms the levels found were consistent with the condition.

The developments in knowledge since 2008 are potentially significant. It is now thought that hypoglycaemia could occur naturally in up to 10% of the sick and elderly. Mr Norris, dubbed “the Angel of Death” has made an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

This case highlights the potential dangers of relying on scientific evidence in criminal proceedings. Scientific ‘facts’ that are considered virtually absolute at a particular moment in time can be found to be either incorrect or partially incorrect with the passage of time. Juries are warned as to how to approach expert evidence by the Judge but this is no comfort to those defendants claiming their innocence, convicted of crimes on the basis of medical or scientific evidence which may at some point be called into question. 

If you have been convicted of an offence and wish to obtain advice in respect of an appeal, please do contact our appeals team on 01616 966 229.

By appeals solicitor, Alison Marriott