Shamed doctor 'destroyed my family's lives'

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The Independent Online

Professor David Southall, the now disgraced paediatrician who wrongly accused a father of murdering his two baby sons, should be struck off, said a woman whose daughter was placed in foster care because of false accusations of abuse.

Professor Southall was found guilty on Friday of serious professional misconduct after falsely accusing Stephen Clark, 42, of murdering his children, Christopher and Harry.

Professor Southall, 56, made his allegations after watching a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary about the case in 2000. Mr Clark's wife, Sally, had initially been convicted of murder, but her conviction was quashed last year.

Yesterday Justine Durkin, whose own complaint against Professor Southall will be heard by the General Medical Council (GMC) in January, called for the consultant paediatrician to be struck off.

"He destroyed mine and my family's lives," she told Radio 4's Today programme. "He accused me of having Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, which was unfounded. But it took 11 months to get that far, and during that time the children were in care."

Professor Southall made his diagnosis of MSBP - where the sufferer harms their own child in order to draw attention to themselves - after Ms Durkin took her daughter Rosie to see him in 1993 at North Staffordshire Hospital.

Rosie, then aged one, had developed a cough that led to breathing problems. Unknown to Ms Durkin, Professor Southall wrote in his notes "Mother - MSBP?" and she was sent home with a monitoring device.

A few weeks later she was told her daughter had a serious heart disorder and would need 24-hour monitoring. But this was a ruse to secretly video Ms Durkin, 34, to see if she tried to harm her child. Mother and daughter were placed in a ward for five days, and Rosie was ordered to remain on the bed for 24 hours a day.

"They were under the impression I was smothering her," Ms Durkin said. "Of course, the video didn't show anything of the sort. It showed me and my daughter in a room for five days, getting extremely fraught with the situation we were put in."

Ms Durkin was still accused of having MSBP and was wrongly accused of punching Rosie in the face. She was cleared of the charges, but not before Rosie was taken into care and her son, Joe, then three, went to live with his father, who Ms Durkin had separated from.

Her husband was granted custody of both children and Ms Durkin was initially only allowed supervised visits for two hours a week. The conditions were eventually relaxed, and a year ago Rosie decided to move back with her mother, although Joe decided to stay where he is.

Ms Durkin's complaint is one of a further six against the doctor, who was banned from working on child protection cases for three years. "Obviously we'd all like him struck off," Ms Durkin said. "If people are caught doing these things the standards of evidence should be irrefutable."

After Friday's hearing Professor Southall's solicitor, Margaret Taylor, said outside the GMC building in Manchester: "Although disappointed that the committee has applied conditions to his registration, Professor Southall sincerely hopes that the decision will not deter other paediatricians from continuing to act in the particularly difficult area of child protection and speaking out when they suspect a child has been abused."