Second pathologist under scrutiny after Clark case

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The Independent Online

Dozens of convictions for murder and other violent crimes might have to be re- examined because of alleged mistakes made by a second senior Home Office pathologist being investigated by the General Medical Council.

Dr Paula Lannas, like the discredited pathologist in the Sally Clark murder case, is one of 30 Home Office pathologists registered to do medical tests and post-mortem examinations for the Crown in criminal cases and for the coroner in inquests. Both are facing disciplinary action after complaints were raised over their conduct and competence.

On Wednesday a judge indicated that the Home Office pathologist Dr Alan Williams would be criticised for failing to share important information in the case of Sally Clark, who was convicted of murdering her two baby boys but freed by the Court of Appeal.

A Home Office inquiry into complaints against Dr Lannas has been suspended while the General Medical Council conducts its own investigation.

The Home Office is understood to have begun a "close monitoring" of Dr Lannas's work in 1996. During a disciplinary tribunal in 2001 she was accused of "demonstrating a continuing pattern of inadequate and unsatisfactory examinations and breaches of accepted forensic pathology practice".

At least six prisoners serving life sentences for murder have complained that their convictions hinged on evidence provided by Dr Lannas, which they believe was flawed.

One of them is Jeffrey Cattell, 41, who is serving his sentence at Swaleside prison in Kent for the 1997 murder of James Milne, 50, of Maidstone. Cattell is being supported in his appeal by other pathologists and lawyers who have agreed to provide their services free.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said that its disciplinary investigation by the Home Office policy advisory board had been discontinued while the GMC investigated. She said: "We are aware that this case is still being considered by the GMC, which is a higher and a more appropriate body." She said if the GMC found "malicious behaviour" then the Home Office could re-open the tribunal and remove her name from its register.

Dr Lannas maintains that she has always acted properly and professionally, and says she is confident her work will stand up to rigorous inspection.

The two doctors who gave evidence in the Sally Clark trial, Dr Williams and Professor Michael Green, might also be investigated by the General Medical Council. A GMC spokeswoman said: "We are aware of the doctors and are considering whether action, if any, needs to be taken."

A complaint alleging misconduct and incompetence against Dr Williams and Professor Green was lodged by Martin Bell, who was Sally Clark's MP, more than two years ago. In October the complaint went before a GMC committee, which adjourned the matter until after the Clark appeal. Mr Bell said yesterday that his complaint "should now be pursued as a matter of urgency".

MPs are demanding a review of the way medical evidence is handled in court cases. Robert Key, Conservative MP for Salisbury,told the Commons yesterday of five other similar cases, including that of Angela Cannings, who was convicted in 1991 and 1999 of murdering her two infant sons. Mr Key said miscarriages of justice would continue as long as juries were "allowed to convict on the controversial opinions and theories of medical experts" rather than on the evidence.

Discredited doctor's other cases

Just days after Dr Alan Williams gave evidence at the trial of Sally Clark in November 1999 he was called upon to provide similar expertise in another case of a mother accused of child murder. The woman was acquitted after the court heard that he had changed his medical opinion of the cause of death.

The judge at Chester Crown Court ordered the immediate release of the defendant, who had been charged with smothering her baby to death. The judge said Dr Williams had failed to support his change of heart with proper medical reasons.

Two years ago the trial of a dentist and anaesthetist accused of killing Karla Selley collapsed after Dr Williams confessed under cross-examination he had made a "mistake" in not realising the significance of a heart abnormality the child had suffered since birth.