“Systematic, repetitive acts of infanticide.”

Atrocious crimes feature so often in the daily news that they begin to lose their power to shock, but the trial of an Australian woman makes a chilling exception. According to the prosecutor, water polo champion Keli Lane was so determined to be selected for the 2000 Sydney Olympics that she “hid” a pregnancy from everyone and, when her daughter was born, she killed her, buried her, and then went to a wedding.

That was in 1996 when Lane was 21. As a result of various sexual relationships she had already had two abortions and — in moments of better judgement — had two babies adopted out. After each birth she would immediately resume her active sporting, social and sex life. She drank heavily and “kept up with the boys”. She was not, as it happens, selected for the Olympic team.

Now 35, Lane denies killing her child and claims that her then boyfriend took the infant away. Maybe. Hopefully. Because it is very hard to accept that a mother would kill her infant with the cold-blooded casualness the prosecution alleges. And yet, only two weeks ago we heard about a French woman, Dominique Cottrez, who admitted suffocating eight of her newborns and concealing their corpses in the garden and garage of her home. Among similar horror stories in recent years was that of Susan F, a German woman who, over a period of six years, killed three of her newborns and hid them around the house.

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