Doctor says body parts 'for research'

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The pathologist who kept a cardboard box of children's organs in a Canadian warehouse claimed last night he was storing them for medical research.

The pathologist who kept a cardboard box of children's organs in a Canadian warehouse claimed last night he was storing them for medical research.

Professor Dick van Velzen, who is already at the centre of the baby-organ scandal at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital, faces arrest and possible extradition by the Canadian police, who found the human organs stored alongside several boxes of animal parts.

But Professor van Velzen, who is working in The Hague, reacted with bemusement last night to the allegations that he has behaved improperly. Insisting he had done nothing wrong, Professor van Velzen maintained the organs and limbs found in the warehouse in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, were given to him by doctors and families for research into bowel disease.

Despite the Professor's protestations, he has been charged by Canadian police with "indignity to human remains" which carries a maximum five-year jail sentence.

The professor, a world expert in cot deaths, is also caught up in the scandal at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool, where thousands of organs were removed from dead children. He worked there for seven years until 1995. Parents of the children involved called last night for a public inquiry in the light of the news from Canada.

The baby organs in Canada were found in a cardboard box inside a crate used to store furniture and personal effects belonging to Professor van Velzen. The discovery was made when staff moved in to recover his belongings, which had been stored in May, 1998, after he failed to return for them.

"The tissues found were nothing to do with body parts and nothing to do with post-mortem organs," he said. "They were surgical biopsy specimens sent to me from all over the world because of the work I have done on diseases."

Police who examined the crates found that 12 of them contained pig organs but that another one contained human organs, thought to be those of children. "One of the boxes was damaged and the workers saw some sort of animal or human organs sticking out of the box," said Judy Pal, a police spokeswoman in Halifax.

The issue of organ retention came to the fore last year when it emerged at the inquiry into the cardiac unit at Bristol Royal Infirmary that 11,000 children's hearts had been stored for research across the country.

Alder Hey, which had admitted retaining 2,087 children's hearts, then discovered organs from more than 800 children had been removed without the knowledge of doctors or parents. They were found in a University of Liverpool laboratory.

Professor van Velzen denied at the time that he had removed the organs so they could be used in his research, saying they were being kept because he did not have enough funding to clear a backlog of post-mortem examinations.

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