Families tell of humiliation and emotional scars: Parents say their children have been wrongly diagnosed by a consultant accused of an over-zealous approach. Rosie Waterhouse reports

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The Independent Online
JACK and Elizabeth Jones (not their real names) had their children Lucy and Alan, then aged seven and three, snatched from school by three policemen and a social worker and taken to a foster home, after Dr Heather Richardson diagnosed that they had been sexually abused.

Lucy was first referred to Dr Richardson in 1988 following a school medical because of temper tantrums and bed-wetting. She was examined eight times by Dr Richardson over a two-year period, and photographs taken on three occasions.

After the second examination in July 1988, Dr Richardson diagnosed sexual abuse. The case was referred to Kent social services and various case conferences were held. Alan was examined twice and Dr Richardson diagnosed sexual abuse after the first examination. According to the Joneses, in January 1990 the children were 'dragged screaming' from school and taken to a foster home and allowed just two meetings with their parents in two weeks before they were allowed home.

Care proceedings were initiated and disclosure work was undertaken with the children, which produced no evidence of sexual abuse.

Dr Ilya Kovar, a senior lecturer and consultant paediatrician at Charing Cross hospital in central London, who examined the children two weeks after Dr Richardson, was unable to support her diagnosis. He expressed 'reservations' about the sudden removal of the children from their parents if the decision was on the basis of medical findings alone, and he argued that continued removal was 'inappropriate'.

The case was dropped by Kent social services in July 1991, with the approval of the guardian ad litem, appointed to represent the interests of the children, after an assessment of the family by a leading child psychiatrist.

Lucy has since been diagnosed as dyslexic and her parents say this was partly the cause of her disturbed behaviour.

The Joneses are angry and distressed by Dr Richardson's diagnosis of sexual abuse. 'This almost tore our family apart and ruined us financially,' the mother said. 'My daughter has been emotionally scarred by the repeated examinations and the humiliation of being photographed. It has given her inhibitions she never had before.'

In November 1991, Susan and Colin Wilkins (not their real names) initially refused to believe Dr Richardson's diagnosis that their six-year-old daughter Tina had been sexually abused. They believed her only after an independent second opinion agreed with Dr Richardson's conclusion, and Tina was persuaded to confide that she had been raped and buggered by the 14- year-old son of a neighbour. He had threatened her with a rifle and she had been too terrified to tell her parents.

Tina had been referred to Dr Richardson in April 1991 by an educational psychologist because of behavioural problems at school. Even though Dr Richardson suspected after the first examination in April that Tina had been sexually abused, she did not inform the social services until November, after a second examination in September.

Tina's parents are outraged by the seven-month delay before the authorities were told of Dr Richardson's findings and are claiming compensation for alleged negligence.

Their complaint alleges that there was a strong likelihood that Tina was subjected to further, avoidable, sexual assaults by the teenaged neighbour before the authorities were informed.

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