Munchausen's activists threaten child specialists

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The Independent Online
A CAMPAIGN of intimidation against a group of leading paediatricians and psychiatrists is undermining the protection offered to child victims of abuse, doctors say.

More than a dozen child health specialists have been targetted with threats, abuse and allegations of misconduct in the campaign orchestrated by parents, some of whom have been accused of harming their children.

The doctors, who include some of the most eminent names in their fields, have been involved in cases of Munchausen's by Proxy, the rare condition in which parents induce physical symptoms in their children in order to gain medical attention.

The campaigners have named 14 doctors on their website, called Mothers Against Munchausen's syndrome by proxy Allegations (MAMA), who are accused of perjury, attempted blackmail and child abuse. An MP in the Lord Chancellors department is accused of helping to prevent legal aid being granted to sue doctors and there is also criticism of social workers. One message to a neurologist said: "I promise to make it my life's work to finish you for good."

A major target for attack is David Southall, professor of paediatrics at the University of North Staffordshire, who pioneered the use of covert video surveillance to trap parents in the act of harming their children. He has been accused of killing babies and perpetrating fraud and was forced to suspend his work while the allegations against him were investigated in five separate enquiries. One, into his personal conduct, exonerated him last month but the other four have yet to report.

In a statement issued through the British Medical Association, which has supported him throughout, Professor Southall said: "The most important and worrying consequence of the campaign against me is the impact on children at risk of abuse. There has been a deliberate attempt to stop me working... and deny the very real threat posed by some very disturbed adults."

Harvey Marcovitch, a consultant paediatrician at Horton Hospital, Banbury, detailed the threats to his colleagues in a recent British Medical Journal article. A bundle of documents about doctors' diagnoses of child abuse, some "bristling with anger," was stuffed behind a radiator near his office, he wrote. "The package had been planted where I would find it. I think it was meant to frighten me."

NHS trusts and the General Medical Council had received complaints couched in virtually identical language, suggesting the complaints had been orchestrated. "They should adopt a more vigorous policy of rebutting unjustified demands and involving the police if they believe [doctors] are being harassed," Mr Marcovitch said. "It is time the profession hit back at those who are vilifying our colleagues," he said.

Penny Mellor, one of the leading campaigners, said: "I want these people brought to book. They have committed crimes. They have lied in care proceedings and in court and we can prove it. I won't be satisfied until they have been criminally prosecuted."

Mrs Mellor, who is a survivor of child abuse but has never herself been accused of abuse, is due to appear with eight others before magistrates in Sunderland on 3 December on a charge of conspiracy to detain a child involved in care proceedings. "If you label a parent with Munchausen's by Proxy it is worse than being called a paedophile," she said. "The public immediately think of Beverley Allitt [the nurse convicted of murdering children] and you can no longer get medical care because you are regarded as a pathological liar. Someone has to fight this and I have decided I will stand up and be counted."