Pathologist in Sally Clark case may be struck off

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The Independent Online

A Home Office pathologist whose flawed testimony led to one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in British history may be struck off the medical register after a disciplinary panel found he botched post-mortem examinations and withheld evidence.

A Home Office pathologist whose flawed testimony led to one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in British history may be struck off the medical register after a disciplinary panel found he botched post-mortem examinations and withheld evidence.

The General Medical Council (GMC) panel will tomorrow begin consideration of whether the failings by Alan Williams, whose testimony at the trial of Sally Clark in 1999 resulted in her being wrongly jailed for murdering her two sons, amount to serious professional misconduct.

Mrs Clark was freed on appeal in 2003 after new evidence came to light that her second son, Harry, was most likely to have died from an infection rather than being shaken to death.

The quashing of her conviction and that of Angela Cannings, who was also convicted of murdering her children, and the freeing of Trupti Patel, found not guilty on the same charge, last year prompted a major review of child abuse cases.

A second expert witness, Sir Roy Meadow, who said in the trials that the odds of two cot deaths in the same family were one in 73 million, is to appear before the GMC next month. Evidence from Sir Roy, a former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, was not central to Mrs Clark's conviction and it was Dr Williams' failure to disclose the vital evidence showing her son died of an infection that led to the successful appeal.

The GMC said on Friday that Dr Williams, 58, who first alerted police to the possibility that Mrs Clark's two sons had been murdered, made errors in post-mortem examinations on Christopher, who died in 1996 and Harry who died in 1998. He carried out specialist procedures that he was not qualified to do, failed to exercise reasonable care and was "incompetently self-contradictory".

He did not reveal to the defence samples taken from Harry indicating the presence of potentially fatal bacteria, which could have caused his death. He argued they were the result of contamination during the post-mortem examination.

In the second stage of the GMC's disciplinary procedure, it will tomorrow begin hearing evidence on Dr Williams' character and history before deciding whether he is guilty of serious professional misconduct and should be struck off the medical register. The case is expected to conclude this week.

The Royal Colleges of Pathologists and Paediatrics last year criticised the role of expert witnesses in cot-death cases, accusing them of relying on "medical belief" rather than scientific evidence.

The main characters

* SALLY CLARK

Jailed in 1999 for murdering her two sons, who had suffered cot deaths. She lost her first appeal but was freed on her second appeal in January 2003 after it emerged a Home Office pathologist, Alan Williams, had withheld vital evidence.

* STEPHEN CLARK

Stood by his wife throughout and campaigned for her release. Was investigated and cleared by police after being accused of killing his sons by Professor David Southall.

* SIR ROY MEADOW

Former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and child abuse specialist, whose evidence that the chances of two children in the same family suffering cot death was one in 73 million has been widely criticised. Faces GMC hearing next month.

* PROFESSOR DAVID SOUTHALL

Narrowly escaped being struck off by the GMC after accusing Stephen Clark of killing his sons on the basis of a television interview.