“It is profoundly wrong to deny justice by denying science”

August 29, 2021
Men and women scientists standing solemnly in front of the Shine Dome, with the names of petition signatories overlaid on the image.
Some of the 90 scientists who signed a petition earlier this year calling for Kathleen Folbigg to be pardoned. Image: 60 Minutes Australia

Leading Australian scientists have today renewed their call for Kathleen Folbigg’s pardon and release from jail.

Despite conclusive scientific and medical evidence that points to natural causes of death for all four of her children, Ms Folbigg remains incarcerated, almost 18 years after she was sent to jail.

The renewed call comes almost six months after 90 eminent scientists submitted a petition to the Governor of NSW, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC, who awaits advice from the NSW Attorney-General, Mark Speakman.

In April, the Australian Academy of Science offered to facilitate for the NSW Attorney-General a briefing by scientists with expertise in genetics and statistics, to explain the new genetic evidence that had been uncovered.

The NSW Attorney-General declined that briefing and instead requested the new evidence be submitted via Ms Folbigg’s legal representatives, which occurred in June.

This includes new peer-reviewed genetic findings by an international team of 27 scientists published in a top international cardiology journal, Europace, in November 2020. It showed two of the children had genetic mutations that predisposed them to sudden death in childhood from lethal heart arrythmias. Forensic pathologists had declared natural causes of death for the other two children.

Australian Academy of Science President, Professor John Shine is among the petition signatories and says there is very reasonable doubt about Ms Folbigg’s conviction.

“The NSW Attorney-General now has sufficient medical and scientific evidence before him that provides an alternative explanation for the deaths of the Folbigg children, that carries more weight than the circumstantial evidence used to convict her,” Professor Shine said.

“Our offer to the NSW Attorney-General to facilitate a scientific briefing stands. These matters can appear complex to a non-scientific audience.

“We also call on the federal and state and territory attorneys general to consider legal reform that would empower the judiciary to identify the most qualified expert to provide evidence for any given case.

“To ensure miscarriages of justice like this are prevented in the future, it is imperative that evidence heard by the courts is accurate; is delivered by the most qualified expert; and draws on the most up-to-date science. This is particularly important in rapidly moving areas such as human genetics.

“We urge the NSW Attorney-General to expedite this matter and advise the NSW Governor to pardon Kathleen Folbigg and release her from jail,” Professor Shine said.

Petition signatory Australian Nobel Laureate and Corresponding Member of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn said it was profoundly wrong to deny justice by denying science.

“Do those who would deny Kathleen Folbigg’s right to scientific evidence deny that the planet Earth revolves around the sun?” said Professor Blackburn.

Watch the 60 Minutes story in which the science behind the case is explored.

© 2021 Australian Academy of Science

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