Doctors in child abuse detection suspended

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The Independent Online
TWO CONSULTANT paediatricians involved in controversial child protection work were suspended yesterday by their hospital trust.

Professor David Southall and Dr Martin Samuels, who specialise in the detection of child abuse, have been the target of a campaign by parents accusing them of "harassment" and "victimisation."

Yesterday the North Staffordshire Hospital Trust told them to stop work while investigations into the allegations continue.

Professor Southall's work in child abuse, which included covert videoing of suspected abusers, has infuriated some parents who say they have been falsely accused of Munchausen's by proxy, the disorder in which parents poison, injure or suffocate their children to get medical attention.

In an interview with the British Medical Journal he said he had been repeatedly threatened, his charity had been infiltrated and burgled and research grants and international aid had been blocked.

The trust refused to name the doctors yesterday but said the suspensions had been ordered on the advice of two separate panels of independent experts, relating to their child protection work and "research issues" in child protection.

A statement said the suspensions were "not a disciplinary action and in no way prejudge the outcome of the investigations."

Professor Southall is also the subject of an independent inquiry, not related to the current suspension, into how consent was obtained from parents of premature babies with breathing problems who were involved in a trial of a new type of ventilator.

Some parents claimed they did not know their babies were part of a trial. The report of that inquiry has been sent to ministers.

The allegations which led to yesterday's move were made a year ago by a group of parents led by Penny Mellor, who runs a support line for those accused of child abuse.

They were set out in a letter dated 26 January 1999, from Peter Blythin, executive director of nursing at the trust, and include claims that Professor Southall threatened to take one mother's children into care unless she went to London for an assessment by a specialist and that he acted "maliciously" by urging social workers to take another mother's son into care after the mother had lodged a complaint against him.

At the time the trust said the allegations were "potentially serious", although unsubstantiated, and it had called in independent experts because it wanted to be "seen to be doing the right thing."

The inquiry was later split into three strands looking at employment issues, child protection and research. Professor Southall announced in October that he had been cleared of the allegations in relation to employment issues.

Friends say that he is upset at being suspended but "quietly confident" that he will be cleared when the inquiry is complete.

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