Police defend midwife trial

Police are defending their decision to press manslaughter charges against a Dunedin midwife following the death of a newborn baby.

Jennifer Joan Crawshaw, 44, was charged with manslaughter following the death of a breech baby born to a first-time mother on March 14, 2004.

The Crown said she failed in her duty as a midwife in several respects, the main one being her failure to adequately monitor the baby's heart during labour and to call for medical assistance when the heart rate was too high. She was found not guilty by a jury in the High Court at Dunedin on Tuesday.

Senior Sergeant Callum Croudis said he believed it was right for the case to go before the courts, despite criticism from the New Zealand College of Midwives, which said it should have gone before a medical council.

"The facts, the evidence, the expert opinion of our legal advisers and of the crown solicitor and our expert medical advice all suggested that there was serious departure from what should have been expected and as a consequence a child died," he said.

The New Zealand College of Midwives says the police acted precipitately. College chief executive Karen Guilliland told National Radio the case should have gone before the Midwifery Council and not the courts.

The mother of the baby involved in Mrs Crawshaw's case did not lay the complaint leading to the trial, and the college did not know who had.

Mr Croudis said the hospital coroner was notified of the death and as a result police decided to launch an investigation. "It was a coronially notified death in the hospital and our inquest officer commenced an inquiry initially. Some months down the track he recommended to me that we look more closely at it and I appointed an investigator."

Ms Guilliland said the Midwifery Council would now hold an inquiry into the case, as its investigations had to stop while the case was before the courts.

She said it would start "from square one" and the case would be referred to the Health and Disability Commissioner if necessary.

"The whole process ... for people in child birth, is full with moments of decision making that you mostly get right, but occasionally you get wrong.

"What we'd hoped to see is that any process that looks at that is a learning one and that all parties involved in that can learn from the process so that that doesn't happen again," she said.

- NZPA

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