Richard Ingrams' Week: Secretive world of family court and expert witnesses

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Incompetent doctors can take heart from the story of paediatrician Dr David Southall. His case proved once again that professional people never like to see one of their number prevented from earning a good living, whatever he or she may have done in the past.

Dr Southall, readers may remember, achieved some notoriety in the case of Sally Clark who was wrongly convicted of murdering her children and sent to prison in 1999. It was after watching Sally Clark's husband Steve being interviewed on Channel 4 that Southall decided that he was "beyond reasonable doubt" the murderer of his children.

Southall, who like the discredited doctor Roy Meadow, was a believer in the bizarre theory of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, later went on to accuse a mother, Mandy Morris, of hanging her young son and then falsely claiming that the boy had committed suicide. This case remains unresolved and Southall will have to appear before the Appeal Court next January to justify his charge.

But despite the fact that this case is still pending and that an official review into a number of criminal cases in which he gave evidence for the prosecution is in progress, and despite the fact that he has never withdrawn his accusation of murder against Mr Clark. The GMC is allowing Southall to return to child protection work.

And if, as seems possible , he may once again be called on to appear as an expert witness in the Family Division courts, we shall never be told the details as all the hearing s are still held in secret.

A dignified exit to the job centre

Whatever else it is, death has never seemed a very dignified affair. Which makes it puzzling the way advocates of euthanasia talk about helping people to "die with dignity".

For me it always conjures up those old-fashioned pictures of dying monarchs lying peacefully in their beds surrounded by quietly weeping loved ones and praying clerics.

Similarly, the patient who has opted for euthanasia may pass away not with pomp and solemn music but with a dignified white-coated doctor murmuring "this may hurt a little" before administering an injection of some lethal substance.

Now old people are being offered the chance not only of dying but being sacked with dignity. Employers' organisations this week welcomed the decision of the European Court to reject an appeal by the charity Age Concern to ban compulsory retirement at the age of 65. A spokesman said that the decision would help employers to plan their workforce and "ensure a dignified exit" for ageing employees whose work was starting to decline.

It's hard to see exactly how the dignity comes into all this. The implication seems to be that instead of your boss telling you you're fired because you're not up to the job any more, he can bullshit his way out of it by blaming the Government.

"Look, old fellow, I would like nothing better than to keep you on – we really value your input – but it's the law and in the circumstances, however much it pains me, we're going to have to let you go, aren't we?"

And with a fatherly arm round his shoulder he helps the 65-year-old to the door where he duly makes his dignified exit.

Yes, he must be bananas …

I can't recall a previous case when a set of photographs has succeeded in destroying the reputation of a politician overnight, as happened this week.

Some of us were always sceptical about the extravagant claims made for David Miliband by some Labour MPs and many political commentators as an altogether brilliant young man and the only possible person to transform the fortunes of the Labour Party, once Gordon Brown had been booted out. For me Miliband has never managed to live down the description of maverick MP Bob Marshall Andrews who memorably said of him that he looked "like a pillock on his gap year".

This week's photographs powerfully reinforced the Marshall Andrews image. One showed him holding up a limp-looking banana and grinning like a circus clown, another standing with Gordon Brown apparently showing him his impression of Mr Bean.

Never in the history of British politics has a Foreign Secretary been made to look such an idiot. And whatever happens it will be very difficult indeed for Miliband to continue to pose as a serious, more creditable alternative to the Prime Minister.

Hitler, who understood the power of the camera, once wisely decreed that no politician should ever be photographed in a bathing costume. It was a lesson that Tony Blair who liked to parade his nude physique when on holiday frequently ignored with fatal results.

David Cameron was photographed at Oxford with a gang of Hooray Henrys including Boris Johnson all togged up in their uniform of the snobby Bullingdon club. The Tories did everything possible to suppress the picture but the damage was done and Cameron has never managed to live down that image of old Etonian snootiness.

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