Judge condemns paediatrician for accusing mother of murder

The Controversial paediatrician David Southall was condemned by the High Court yesterday for his "truly shocking" and unjustified accusations that a mother drugged and murdered her son. The scathing criticism came as Mr Justice Blake, sitting in London, upheld a decision of the General Medical Council's (GMC) fitness to practise panel to strike Dr Southall off the medical register for serious professional misconduct.

The panel found in December 2007 that the doctor's actions added to the distress of the mother – Mrs M, from Shropshire – whose 10-year-old boy hanged himself in 1996. The panel accused him of having a "deep-seated attitudinal problem".

Dr Southall made the murder accusations after being asked by a county council to provide an independent expert report related to the safety of Mrs M's surviving son. Backing the panel's ruling, the judge said it was "truly shocking" that Dr Southall's conduct with respect to Mrs M should have occurred.

He added: "The unjustified accusation of murder was an abuse of the role of consultant and expert instructed in ongoing litigation."

The judge said the Mrs M case was not the only GMC adjudication against him. In August 2004 he had been found guilty of serious professional misconduct and suspended from child protection work over his role in the case of Sally Clark, wrongly jailed over the death of her two sons.

Dr Southall's lawyers argued at the High Court that the panel failed to give any or adequate weight to inconsistencies in Mrs M's evidence, and to the totality of evidence from witnesses, including social workers.

They argued that it was Dr Southall's concern that the panel "did not understand, certainly in its final form, what child protection involved and the part played by doctors like him".

The court's ruling against him triggered a warning from Professionals Against Child Abuse (Paca) that the case's outcome could have "further serious and negative effects" on the willingness of doctors to engage in child protection work.