A BUSINESSMAN and cot death researcher believes babies’ lives are being lost because of the continued use of second-hand mattresses.

Peter Mitchell has been researching cot deaths since the 1980s and was partly responsible for discovering the link with the use of certain types of mattress.

At that time antimony was used in bedding to act as a fire retardant but research showed chemicals can react to a household fungus called scopulariopsis brevicaulis, introduced by the baby’s sweating and dribbling, and create a fatal nerve gas.

His work led to a ban in the use of antimony and a massive reduction in the number of deaths, from 1,593 in 1988 to 127 in 2014, the last year of available figures.

But Mr Mitchell believes more can still be done. He argues that the remaining deaths are due to the use of second-hand mattresses. Older mattresses are more likely to have the fungus and the chemicals that can create the deadly gases.

Mr Mitchell, the managing director of a marquee company, has been analysing the statistics from the Office of National Statistics.

He says second and later babies are at greater risk than first-born. The babies of unmarried single mothers are at higher risk and poor ones more so than rich. The statistics show that unmarried mothers are ten times more likely to lose a baby than mothers having their first baby inside marriage.

Mr Mitchell, of Drove Lane, Alresford, is calling for coroners to interview parents to see if their child was sleeping on an old mattress.

He says the lowest rate of cot death occurs in Finland where each new baby receives a new mattress.

Mr Mitchell argues that mattresses have been more important than the ‘back to sleep’ campaign to put babies on their backs. That only started in 1991 whereas the sharp fall in deaths happened several years before when antimony was banned.

He said: “It is the reuse of mattresses that causes cot death. Most parents who are married buy a new cot and mattress for their first baby and reuse it for later babies. They then sell it or give it away and it is then used by a single mother who cannot afford a new mattress.

“There were 37 married mothers who lost a first baby in the three years 2013-2015. If they died on an old mattress it proves my point. If these 37 babies died on an old mattress the lives of 250 babies would be saved in this country and 5,000 per year in the USA and an answer to why babies died of cot deaths is proved.

“I am not saying that cot deaths are definitely caused by antimony in the mattress, I am saying that cot deaths have dropped by over 90 per cent when antimony is banned and most people know not to use second hand mattresses.”

The Lullaby Trust charity accepts that firm, flat waterproof mattresses do reduce the risk of cot deaths but disputes the significance of second-hand mattresses.