Cot death TV probe sparks row

January 6, 1995

Two Cambridge University researchers into cot death have complained to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the Independent Television Commission about allegations in Central Television's Cook Report.

The researchers claim that the allegations of a cover-up of links between flame retardant in mattresses designed for babies and cot death were an "unsubstantiated insult to committed researchers", and that the programme ignored facts which went against its claims.

Central Television said that it stood by the programme, which brought in 60,000 telephone calls. Central said that the Department of Health has launched an investigation into the mattresses, and that manufacturers have withdrawn them from sale.

Colin Morley, senior lecturer in paediatrics, and research assistant Christine Hiley, say that the programme in November "frightened parents unnecessarily" and was based on "highly selected evidence". It could set back attempts to promote good practice in cot death prevention, like avoiding smoking near babies, by claiming as fact that antimony, a flame retardant in cot mattresses, is the sole cause of cot death.

Mrs Hiley says that one of her own cases, a mother bereaved through cot death who was in touch with the Cook Report and whose baby's mattress and tissues were found to contain no antimony, was ignored by the programme makers.

The Cambridge researchers say the programme accused professionals of a "cover up" of antimony as the cause of cot death. Dr Morley and Mrs Hiley complained: "This is an insult to committed researchers in the field and was unsubstantiated." He denied claims in the programme that antimony fumes had been ignored as a possible cause of cot death.

Dr Morley and Mrs Hiley say they complained only after the programme makers failed to respond to an earlier letter. In his letter to Central Television, Dr Morley said the claim that antimony in mattresses was the source of antimony found in babies' tissues and that it caused cot death was "an enormous leap of logic, and denying the known facts".

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