FAMILIES of murdered children are celebrating the success of a Sussex campaign to change the law.

The House of Lords has voted in favour of closing a legal loophole which allows parents or guardians who kill to escape prosecution for murder by remaining silent.

The campaign, launched by The Argus, relatives and Brighton Kemp Town MP Des Turner, has led to a new law that means those who refuse to say who dealt fatal blows will be subject to a new criminal charge.

Peers voted 149 to 130 to amend the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill, which creates the offence of "causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult".

Known as "familial homicide", the new law will mean parents can be ordered to explain what happened.

Refusal will lead to prosecution, with a likely maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

The campaign for a law change gained impetus after the death of four-year-old John Smith, who was left with 54 injuries after abuse by adoptive parents Simon and Michelle McWilliam, from Southwick.

They were jailed for only eight years on cruelty charges. Murder charges were dropped because it could not be proved who delivered the fatal blows.

John's aunt, Linda Terry, was thrilled after watching the peers vote.

She said: "We did it. I can't believe it actually went through with little opposition.

"I can't thank The Argus enough for your support and encouragement.

"I had no idea how these things happen at the start of my campaign and I've learnt a lot on the road to this victory.

"There are so many people I also need to thank, more than 6,000 letters have been sent to various MPs.

"I want to let all members of the public who supported this by signing and sending their letters know that they have contributed to this success.

"The Justice for John campaign had the support of Sussex Police and I hope that by closing this loophole they are now able to carry out their role in the knowledge that parents involved in this type of crime will no longer get away with murder."

The Argus launched its campaign in 2000 after a Brighton couple were jailed for cruelty to five children.

They were originally tried for murdering three babies but the case collapsed because it could not be proved which of them killed.

Des Turner, who met with ministers and lobbied for four years, today welcomed the news.

He said: "I am very pleased. I know it has taken a long time but the end result is extremely satisfying.

"Sadly, this will not stop children dying but it does mean guilty parents will no longer get away with it."