Child expert guilty of abusing position with murder claim

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Professor David Southall, a paediatrician with an international reputation in child protection, was found guilty yesterday of abusing his professional position when he accused the husband of the cleared solicitor Sally Clark of murdering their children.

Professor David Southall, a paediatrician with an international reputation in child protection, was found guilty yesterday of abusing his professional position when he accused the husband of the cleared solicitor Sally Clark of murdering their children.

A disciplinary panel of the General Medical Council decided Professor Southall, 55, had acted in a way that was "irresponsible, inappropriate and misleading" when he made the allegation against Steven Clark, 42, on the basis of a television programme.

Although the professor had been right to raise his concerns, the GMC said, he had presented his theory about the case as fact and had refused to accept he might be wrong. It will decide if his actions amount to serious professional misconduct when it reconvenes in August.

Professor Southall, of North Staffordshire Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent, has been one of the leading figures in the detection of child abuse for more than a decade. He pioneered the use of covert video surveillance to detect parents smothering their children and was awarded an OBE for his charitable work with abused children in Bosnia.

But yesterday his reputation was gravely damaged after the GMC concluded he had gone too far when he wrote a report to the police without interviewing either Mr or Mrs Clark but accusing Mr Clark of murdering his sons Christopher and Harry. He had watched an interview Mr Clark gave to a Channel 4 Dispatches programme about the case, broadcast in April, 2000.

At the time Mrs Clark was serving a life sentence after she was convicted of murdering the boys, aged 11 weeks and eight weeks, and was awaiting her first appeal. Professor Southall had watched Mr Clark describe a nosebleed that Christopher had suffered in a London hotel nine days before he died in December, 1996. Professor Southall told the hearing that nosebleeds in young babies were a sign of suffocation, and other features of the case, together with his own research, convinced him "beyond reasonable doubt" that Mr Clark was the killer.

He believed police had been misled when they pinned the blame on Mrs Clark and said he was concerned for the safety of the couple's third and only surviving child, who was then in Mr Clark's sole care.

Last week, under questioning, he repeated his claim before the GMC that he still believed Mr Clark had killed his sons. He refused to retract or apologise for the allegations.

Professor Denis McDevitt, chairman of the GMC's professional conduct committee, told Professor Southall that nobody disputed he should have told the authorities of his concerns that Mr Clark could be the killer but "everything beyond that seems to be a quantum leap".

Professor Southall admitted that the Dispatches programme had been his principal source and that he had not seen medical notes, post-mortem reports or court papers relating to the case. But when he compiled a report for police four months after watching the Dispatches programme he refused to place a caveat on it that it was based on limited information. His refusal to accept that he might be wrong led the GMC to find him guilty.

The five-member GMC panel, including two doctors and three lay people, after delivering its "finding of fact" in the case, will consider whether the charges proved amount to serious professional misconduct, and what punishment, if any, to impose, when it reconvenes on 5 August. The penalties range from a public reprimand to being struck off the medical register.

A colleague of Professor Southall's said yesterday: "He is extremely well regarded in the profession and has done important work. But he has an evangelical mission to save babies. Nothing is more dotty than to come before the General Medical Council and repeat an accusation of murder. You are supposed to come to the GMC to apologise and be humble and say you won't do it again. There is no doubting his sincerity or courage. If it had been the First World War he would have been first out of the trenches. But these sort of people harm themselves in the end."

Mrs Clark was convicted of murdering her two children in 1999, but was cleared by the Court of Appeal in January, 2003. Professor Southall's allegations against Mr Clark were investigated but no charges were brought.

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