'Cot death' professor to face misconduct hearing

Professor Sir Roy Meadow, the doctor at the centre of a number of high profile cases against women accused of killing their children, is to face a professional conduct committee, it was announced today.

The General Medical Council said its preliminary proceedings committee considered allegations against Professor Meadow yesterday.

"The committee determined that the allegations, if proved, would raise a question of serious professional misconduct, which could affect his fitness to practise," a statement said.

The GMC said the allegations had been referred to a public hearing of the professional conduct committee, likely to be held in the second half of next year.

Professor Meadow was an expert witness in the trials of Sally Clark, Trupti Patel and Angela Cannings, who was last week freed from prison after being cleared of murdering her two baby sons.

In 1999 he gave evidence at the trial of solicitor Mrs Clark, who later won her appeal to overturn her conviction for murdering her two baby sons.

Prof Meadow told the jury that the chance of two children in such an affluent family dying of cot death was "one in 73 million".

This figure was later criticised by statisticians and the judge at Mrs Clark's appeal.

Prof Meadow appeared again at the trial of Mrs Patel, who was found not guilty in June of murdering her three babies.

And he came under renewed fire last week after Mrs Cannings was released by the Court of Appeal.

Solicitor John Batt, who worked as part of Mrs Clark's defence team for four years, said last week there was a question mark over similar cases involving Prof Meadow.

"He has given evidence, I understand, that is very similar to the evidence in these three cases which have been overturned now in the courts.

"This must raise a question mark about the other cases in which he claims to have identified mothers murdering their babies."

Prof Meadow has gained a reputation as a "hawkish" paediatrician when confronted with cases of multiple child deaths in one family.

He was already well-known for his 1977 academic paper on Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP), the syndrome where parents are said to fabricate their child's illness, resulting in unnecessary hospital admissions and even death.

His observation in a book that "one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, unless proven otherwise" became known as "Meadow's Law".

Prof Meadow's supporters have said he is a man of skill and compassion and have pointed out that without his work people such as Beverly Allitt - the nurse suffering from MSBP who murdered four children and harmed nine others - might not be behind bars.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the decision to quash Mrs Clark's murder convictions did not hinge on Prof Meadow's statistics - rather on non-disclosure of evidence by the pathologist Dr Alan Williams.

Last week a spokeswoman said Prof Meadow did not use statistics in the Patel and Cannings trials and had been one of a number of expert witnesses to be called by the prosecution.

Asked whether he would be called again as a witness, she said: "There is no professional body that has found against Professor Meadow that we are aware of.

"It would depend on the case and what the evidence was whichever expert was chosen."

Now aged 70, Prof Meadow was educated at a grammar school in Wigan and studied at Oxford University. He first became interested in child health working as a GP in Banbury.

He went to Leeds University as senior lecturer and took up a chair in paediatrics and child health in 1980 at St James's University Hospital, Leeds.

During his career he occupied a number of senior roles, including president of the British Paediatric Association and president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.