Monday, 26th January 2004

Scots families wrongly accused of abuse


Key points
• Scots mothers may have been wrongly accused of cruelty after diagnoses of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, a disease named by Prof Sir Roy Meadow
• Meadow has testified against mothers at numerous high-profile trials
• Meadow spoke at a conference in Lanarkshire calling all cot deaths murder

Key quote: "The scandal in Scotland is that the children’s panel system, which we say is so wonderful, has let Scottish children down. Munchausen was seen as a clever theory and people were sucked in." Edinburgh solicitor Eric Scott

Story in full: AT LEAST 12 parents in Scotland have been accused of having the discredited condition Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, resulting in a total of 19 children being placed in care - two of whom have been adopted with no prospect of them ever returning home.

The findings of an investigation by The Scotsman will fuel calls for the Executive to hold a public inquiry on children taken into care, amid fears that hundreds of mothers have been wrongly accused of child abuse and even murder.

Scottish lawyers are demanding a complete overhaul of the child protection system, following concerns about the use of so-called expert witnesses who have diagnosed parents with Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy.

Largely discredited, MSBP is said to involve parents fabricating illnesses and deliberately harming their children in order to draw attention to themselves.

Eric Scott, an Edinburgh-based solicitor, is representing two women whose lives were blighted following allegations of child abuse. He believes the Scottish children’s panel system has failed youngsters.

"I would like to see all these cases independently reviewed. With anything involving Munchausen they should open up the files," he said.

"The scandal in Scotland is that the children’s panel system, which we say is so wonderful, has let Scottish children down. Munchausen was seen as a clever theory and people were sucked in."

As many as 5,000 children in England and Wales are said to have been taken into local authority care over the past 15 years on the strength of MSBP - a theory pioneered by Professor Sir Roy Meadow. The Scotsman understands the paediatrician has intervened in a number of cases north of the Border. It was his evidence which helped convict the solicitor Sally Clark when she was falsely accused of murdering her two sons.

At her trial in 1999, he said the chances of two members of the same family dying of cot death was "73 million to one". That figure has since been cast into grave doubt by recent research, and Mrs Clark’s conviction was quashed last year.

The professor’s testimony also helped to imprison Angela Cannings, who was recently cleared of murdering two of her children.

The Scotsman has learned that the professor, who is under investigation by the General Medical Council, addressed a conference in Lanarkshire where he shocked the audience by dismissing all cot deaths as murder.

"Roy Meadow was brought up for a conference in 1989," said a social work insider. He astounded us by saying there is no such thing as cot death, it is murder.

"His theory of MSBP had a profound effect on social workers up here. If a professor of paediatrics tells you this syndrome exists, it’s more than your job’s worth to challenge it."

The source said social workers and doctors had been overwhelmed by a ‘mass hysteria’ which resulted in a witch-hunt to identify mothers with MSBP. Nine children from four Orkney families were taken into care in February 1991, amid allegations of organised child sex abuse.

Three years later, after the publication of Lord Clyde’s damning report into the way the case was handled by the council’s social work department, writs for substantial damages were lodged.

Massimo Franchi, a Glasgow lawyer representing a woman who claims to have been wrongly accused of attempting to murder her son, said a public inquiry was crucial.

"A public inquiry is the only way we can find out whether there have been miscarriages of justice," he said.


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