Sally Clark: doctor accused husband after seeing TV show

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

A leading child-protection expert who said the husband of the cleared solicitor Sally Clark murdered their two babies had a dogmatic belief in his own expertise and behaved in a high-handed fashion, the General Medical Council was told yesterday.

A leading child-protection expert who said the husband of the cleared solicitor Sally Clark murdered their two babies had a dogmatic belief in his own expertise and behaved in a high-handed fashion, the General Medical Council was told yesterday.

Professor David Southall, consultant paediatrician at North Staffordshire hospital, Stoke-on-Trent, is accused of serious professional misconduct after he made the allegation against Steven Clark on the basis of a television interview Mr Clark gave while his wife was serving a life sentence in prison.

On the opening day of the hearing, Professor Southall said he had been "stunned" by the interview which led him to believe it was Mr Clark, and not his wife, who was responsible for the deaths. But he admitted making the allegation without having met the family or seen their medical records.

Mr Clark was interviewed by social workers and Professor Southall's claims were reviewed by a second paediatrician, who did not agree with them, and no further action was taken. Sally Clark was released after the Court of Appeal quashed her conviction in January 2003.

Richard Tyson, for the GMC and Mr Clark, said: "This case is about Professor Southall's dogmatic belief in his own expertise which he brought to bear on a case in which he had no professional involvement but in which he intervened in a high-handed fashion largely on the basis of watching a programme on TV."

In the interview, part of a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on the case in April 2000, Mr Clark said his 11-week-old son, Christopher, had a nosebleed while the family were staying in the Strand Palace Hotel in London 10 days before he died in December 1996.

Nosebleeds in young babies are unusual and a recognised sign of suffocation. Mr Clark had been alone with the child when the nosebleed happened but police believed Mrs Clark could have suffocated the baby before leaving the hotel.

Professor Southall saw the programme and told police he believed they were wrong because, in his experience, "the blood always occurs simultaneously" with suffocation. He said: "I was stunned when I watched this TV programme since it appeared extremely likely, if not certain, that Mr Clark must have suffocated Christopher in the hotel room. I felt the police had been misled into believing Mrs Clark could have suffocated him before leaving the hotel. My experience does not concord with this view."

Professor Southall said he believed the family's third child to be at risk. "I was aware of the third child and consequently the next morning I contacted the child protection unit and reported my concerns." In August 2000, he submitted a report on the Clark family in which he repeated his claims.

Mr Tyson said the facts of the case were both "astonishing and extremely serious". He said Professor Southall admitted forming a theory about the case despite having no connection with it, or access to any of the records. His principal source was the Dispatches programme.

Even when given the opportunity to state that his report's conclusions were based upon limited information, Professor Southall declined, saying that even without all the evidence being made available to him it was likely beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Clark was responsible for the deaths of two of his children.

As a result of his allegations, the local authority seriously considered taking the Clarks' third child into care "due to Professor Southall's eminence and stature", Mr Tyson said.

After the professor made his allegation, the Crown Prosecution Service had Detective Inspector John Gardner of Cheshire Constabulary interview him. Mr Gardner said that Professor Southall "thought Steve Clark came over as insincere and an attention-seeker".

When Christopher died Mr Clark was out at an office party, but Professor Southall suggested he could have caused his death before attending the work function. Mrs Clark had been going through an alcoholic phase and may have been asleep and then woke up to find the baby dead, he said. A post-mortem examination indicated that Christopher died from a lower respiratory tract infection.

Summing up, Mr Gardner said in his report: "It illustrates how a well-meaning but scantily informed person can theorise about what actually happened."

The hearing continues.

Comments