Child protection expert accused of misconduct

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The controversial diagnosis of the medical disorder Munchausen's by proxy, will come under the spotlight today at a disciplinary hearing before the General Medical Council.

The controversial diagnosis of the medical disorder Munchausen's by proxy, which has ripped families apart and triggered the biggest review of criminal convictions in British legal history, will come under the spotlight today at a disciplinary hearing before the General Medical Council.

Professor David Southall, an expert in child protection at North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, is accused of intervening in the Sally Clark case by advising prosecutors that her husband, Stephen, may have killed their two babies, basing his opinion solely on a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary. Police investigated the allegations and took no further action.

Mrs Clark was jailed in 1999 for the murder of Christopher and Harry but freed in 2002 after the conviction was ruled unsafe. She was alleged to be suffering from Munchausen's by proxy, the condition in which parents harm their children to gain medical attention. The Attorney General has ordered a review of 258 child protection cases.

Professor Southall will face the GMC's professional conduct committee in Manchester to answer charges that his actions were "inappropriate, irresponsible, misleading and an abuse of his professional position".

A GMC source said: "When we rely on doctors to diagnose appendicitis there is tangible evidence. Where the diagnosis is an opinion which may label a patient in a detrimental way ... we need to check it."

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