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Judge frees parents of ex-nanny

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CHESTER, England — The parents of former British au pair Louise Woodward walked free Tuesday after a judge ordered jurors to find them not guilty of defrauding an appeal fund set up in their daughter's name.

Judge John Roberts said the prosecution failed to prove that certain sums of money within the fund were not donated solely for the parents' use.

The Woodwards, both 44 and now estranged, were charged with defrauding the fund of more than $13,500. They had been accused of falsely claiming for the cost of accommodation at the home of their daughter's Boston lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, before and during Louise Woodward's trial.

"We hope that today's acquittal will now draw a line under this whole unhappy and upsetting episode," the Woodwards said in a statement read outside Chester Crown Court by one of their lawyers.

The couple, whose statement included a plea for privacy, refused to answer reporters' questions.

Louise Woodward, now 22, was convicted in Massachusetts in 1997 of murdering 8-month-old Matthew Eappen, a baby in her care. A judge later downgraded the conviction to manslaughter, and she was freed after serving 279 days in jail.

The former au pair had accompanied her parents to the trial, which began last week, and was listed as a possible defense witness.

The trial had been expected to last three weeks.