The London Evening
June 18, 2004
LIES, DECEPTION AND THE DOCTOR WHO TRAPPED ME
BY DAVID COHEN
The cunning ploy to entrap Justine Durkin and prove that she was a potential
child murderer began with a phone call. 'Justine,' said the consultant
paediatrician at the other end of the line, his voice caring but grim, 'I'm
afraid tests show your daughter might have a life-threatening disorder. You
need to bring her in for 24-hour monitoring. I've booked a bed.'
At that moment, the world of Justine Durkin, then a bubbly 23-year-old
mother, imploded. Weeping uncontrollably, she packed her bags and headed
into the hands of the doctors she hoped could save her sickly two-year-old
daughter, Rosemary, who suffered from various unexplained ailments,
including violent nocturnal coughing fits.
Waiting for her at the hospital was the eminent and then highly regarded
consultant paediatrician, Professor David Southall. But, as she would
discover - and as he would later testify in the family court - he was not
being entirely honest with her. There were, in fact, no tests that showed a
'life-threatening disorder'. It was all an extraordinary and elaborate con -
cynical and cruel if it were to fail, brilliant perhaps if it were to
succeed - dreamed up by Professor Southall to catch Justine attempting to
harm or smother her child through secret video surveillance, and to prove
his belief that Justine was a potential child murderer.
Totally unaware that Professor Southall was lying to her, Justine and
Rosemary were shown into a carpeted private ward that was to be their home
for the next five days. What Justine saw was monitoring equipment and a
bed - Rosemary would be confined to it and attached to the monitors 24 hours
a day - a second bed for herself, a television, and a chair.
But what she couldn't see were the hidden video cameras that would secretly
record her every word and action for the next 120 hours. For Southall had a
plan: he intended to use this video-tape evidence to prove that she suffered
from a condition called Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, a mysterious
psychological ailment that involves harming - even killing - one's child to
attract attention to oneself.
But when, after two days in the room, no incriminating evidence had been
obtained, Professor Southall decided to up the ante. What he did next,
Justine says, defies belief. Her complaint against Professor Southall is the
subject of an upcoming public hearing by the General Medical Council into
his purportedly 'unethical' behaviour.
It spells more bad news for the professor who, this week, suffered a
humiliating hammer-blow to his reputation when the GMC found him guilty of
serious professional misconduct in accusing the husband of solicitor Sally
Clark of murdering two of their baby sons. Professor Southall had made his
diagnosis after watching a TV programme about the case, without having had
any medical involvement with the Clarks whatsoever.
The GMC - ruling that Professor Southall had abused his position and
condemning his behaviour as 'inappropriate, irresponsible and misleading' -
will deliver its verdict when it reconvenes in August. The panel has the
power to strike off the paediatrician, although it is thought more likely to
issue a public admonishment or suspend his registration.
Anything short of being stuck off, however, will trigger a purported eight
more GMC complaints against Professor Southall, of which Justine's case is
one. Some of the complainants hope to expose just how 'inappropriate,
irresponsible and misleading' the paediatrician's behaviour has consistently
been, ruining their lives, and those of their families, in what they say are
strikingly similar gross abuses of power.
They argue that Southall's behaviour in the Clark case was not a one-off,
but evidence of a trend in which Southall would stop at nothing to prove he
is right. (To this day, Professor Southall clings to his view that Stephen
Clark is a killer.)
But in Justine's case, although he refused to see it, the evidence that he
had got it wrong was staring him in the face. After two days of covert video
surveillance at the University Hospital in North Staffordshire, he had
nothing to show for it. So what did he do?
'He called me out of the ward,' recalls Justine, 34, speaking exclusively to
the Evening Standard from her GBP 500,000 18th-century farmhouse set in
three acres of verdant Nottinghamshire countryside. 'He sat me down, and
told me that the word from Doncaster Hospital where Rosemary had been
treated before being referred was that there did not seem to be anything
wrong with Rosemary and that they thought I had been fabricating her
'Southall was quick to assure me that he believed me, but he said they would
need proof she was ill soon, because there was pressure on him for the use
of facilities and that unless something happened quickly, it would be hard
to counter the view that I was making it up. I did not realize it, but he
was trying to entrap me. He wanted to goad me into manufacturing proof of
her illness. He thought by putting that pressure on me, I would try to
smother or harm Rosemary when no one was looking.'
This extraordinary testimony - recounting entrapment techniques that even
police officers would struggle to justify - is not even disputed by
One week after the covert video surveillance ended, and without any concrete
evidence of mistreatment, two social workers, armed with a written
accusation of Munchausen's from Professor Southall, came to remove
two-year-old Rosemary from Justine's care. They also took her son, Joseph,
just four years old. At the time, Justine was living with her parents in
Wroot, a small village in South Yorkshire, having recently become divorced
from her husband, Nick Twiss, who was then a serving police officer in the
North Staffordshire police.
A moment earlier, during our interview this week, she had been telling me
that she has become 'a tough old broad' and that 'this lady don't ------', but
now, as she recalls the moment Justine was taken, her eyes redden, her face
collapses, and tears stream down her cheeks.
'Something in me died right there,' she says. 'I couldn't make sense of what
was happening. One day I'm told my daughter has a life-threatening illness,
the next that I'm making it all up. Suddenly, these two social workers came
to the door. They told me there had been a secret child-protection
conference and that, on the advice of Southall, my children were to be taken
away. They said they had already found foster parents.
'At first, I resisted. I refused to let them take her, but they said they
would call the police. I said, please, at least let me be the one to hand
her over, to settle her in.'
For 11 months, until the case came to court, Justine's children lived with
their foster parents. Justine got to see them for two hours a week, but
always with someone else there.
Then, in July 1994, came the court case heard in the family division. At
issue was nothing less than whether Justine would get her children back. For
the first time, she got to see the extent of the evidence for Munchausen's
Although we cannot divulge what evidence was given in court, the outcome was
that the judge totally quashed Professor Southall's claim of Munchausen's as
entirely unsubstantiated. Despite Justine being exonerated, the judge
subsequently released the children into the care of their father. Justine
would be able to visit her children under a supervision order, with the
local authority acting as umpire between the parents should disagreement
Justine was devastated. Havingbeing subjected to what she believes is the
modern equivalent of a medieval witch-hunt, and despite being found not
guilty of anything remotely to do with harming her daughter, she had wound
up losing her children to their father who lived two hours away.
For years, she was allowed only limited contact with her children. She was
confined, at first, to supervised contact of six hours a week, which
developed over time to unsupervised weekends.
Justine was so shaken by what had happened that later, when she subsequently
fell pregnant with her second husband, she had an abortion because she was
terrified they would take the baby from her at birth.
'Once you have been accused of Munchausen's, once it's on your notes, even
if you've been cleared, you never know what they will do to you,' she says.
Again the tears stream. 'That still hurts, to think I let Southall affect me
to that extent.'
But the cloud has a silver lining. Firstly, Justine fell pregnant a fourth
time, and this time went ahead with the pregnancy, giving birth to Aidan,
who is now six. And even more to the point - and this makes her beam with
happiness - two years ago Rosemary came to live with her after pleading with
While we are talking, Rosemary, now 13, who is the spitting image of her
mum, wanders in and sits on Justine's lap. Soon, both of them are in tears.
'We have so much time to make up,' says Rosemary, gulping between sobs.
'That man, Southall, has a lot to answer for. He took my Mum away. I think
he should get his head sorted out. I don't mean to sound nasty, but every
child needs their Mum. I'd like to meet him face to face and ask him: why
did you do this? Why did you deprive me of my mother? He doesn't know how
much pain he's put people through. It seems he'll do anything just to be
proved right. I hope he gets sent to prison. I want everyone to know what he
did - not just to us - but other families too.'
Munchausen By Proxy