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professional opinion?


   GMC bans doctor who accused father of murder
By Nigel Bunyan
(Filed: 07/08/2004)


A paediatrician was banned from child protection work for three years yesterday after the General Medical Council condemned him for "abusing his professional position" by accusing a father of murdering his two infant sons.

Prof David Southall, 56, a consultant at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent, told detectives it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that Stephen Clark had smothered the babies 13 months apart.

The doctor had not been involved in the case, had never read any of the medical reports associated with it, and based his allegation exclusively on viewing a 50-minute television documentary.

The GMC tribunal chairman, Prof Denis McDevitt, told the paediatrician: "The committee have found your actions to be individually inappropriate, irresponsible, misleading and an abuse of your professional position."

He added: "We consider your conduct amounts to a serious departure from the standards expected from a registered medical practitioner."

The committee also expressed concern that at no stage in the seven-day hearing had the paediatrician "seen fit to withdraw these allegations or to offer any apology".

Prof Southall was spared the ultimate sanction of being struck off because so many of his peers came forward to commend his pioneering work, but he may yet face expulsion, since in January he will have to defend himself against allegations that he wrongly accused seven sets of parents of child abuse.

His intervention came at a time that Mr Clark"s wife, Sally, 40, was in prison following her conviction for double murder. She was later freed on appeal.

The involvement of so eminent a professional led to social workers meeting to decide whether to take the couple"s surviving son, now aged five, away from his father and back into care.

The Clarks were not in Manchester to hear Prof Southall told that his false allegation amounted to serious professional misconduct.

Prof McDevitt accused the paediatrician of presenting a theory as "a near certainty". He had been given the chance to add a caveat to his report, but chose instead to put his opinion in more concrete words by using the words "beyond all reasonable doubt".

Prof Southall"s "inappropriate and irresponsible behaviour" had caused substantial stress to the Clark family at a time when they were most vulnerable.

A combination of Prof Southall"s proven failings and his "apparent lack of insight" had caused the committee to decide that it would be inappropriate for him to continue with child protection work "for the foreseeable future".

Prof Southall"s refusal to apologise extended to his brief appearance before the media on the steps of the tribunal building. Asked whether he wished to offer Mr Clark an apology, he remained silent.

His solicitor, Margaret Taylor, said that while relieved that he could continue practising, he was disappointed that the GMC had set conditions on his future work.

She added: "He sincerely hopes that the decision will not deter other paediatricians in continuing to work in that particularly difficult area of child protection and speaking out when they suspect a child has been abused."

The committee had clearly acknowledged "the invaluable contribution" he had made to children in England and overseas. He intended to "continue working for children".

Prof Southall was pursued by a small group of shouting women as he climbed into a taxi.

Mr Clark, 43, said in a statement: "It is a sad day when a doctor is dragged before his professional body, is found guilty of serious professional misconduct and has sanctions imposed upon him.

"I take no satisfaction from it. However, as a father, the sole purpose of bringing my complaint was to try to ensure that no other innocent parent is ever again falsely accused of harming their children.

"I hope that the committee"s finding of serious professional misconduct against Prof Southall, and the imposition of conditions preventing him from working in the child protection field for three years, will send a strong message to him and to other like-minded doctors."

Penny Mellor, who has spent the past eight years campaigning against Prof Southall, claimed that the GMC had been influenced by the message from his peers that "if you strike him off, children will die".

Prof Southall has 28 days to appeal against the ruling.
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Posted by : Phoenix , Date : 2004-08-08 , Time : 23:19:29 , From IP : 203.156.42.216

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