31 January 2002

Paediatrician on discipline charges over parental abuse allegations

By Charles Arthur

A paediatrician faces three charges of serious professional misconduct over accusations of child abuse that he made against parents.

Professor David Southall will appear at a public hearing of the General Medical Council (GMC), which has decided it has enough evidence to bring the cases against him. If found guilty of serious professional misconduct, he could be struck off and barred from practice. The first two cases in which Professor Southall, based at North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke, is accused relate to recommendations he made that led to a total of seven children being taken from their parents and put into care.

He had suggested that the children were suffering abuse through "Munchausen's syndrome by proxy", in which a person harms another as a way of attracting medical attention. The parents involved have always strongly proclaimed their innocence and called for a public inquiry by the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, which has so far been declined.

The third case arose after Professor Southall allegedly wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) suggesting that Stephen Clark, whose wife had been convicted of killing their two children, should himself be investigated for child abuse. According to the complaint lodged with the GMC, the case was compounded by Professor Southall, who was never the Clarks' family doctor, writing to the CPS on the hospital's headed paper despite being suspended from his job over an unrelated matter.

The parents involved were yesterday pleased with the news that there would be a full public hearing. "He really needs to be held to account," said one. The hearing might not start for up to a year. One of the cases dates back 10 years, and even the most recent is from two years ago.

Professor Southall could not be contacted yesterday. A spokesman for North Staffordshire Hospital said he was being retrained to bring his skills up to date. He was reinstated last October after two years pending inquiries into another area of his work.

The suspension followed accusations that he put the safety of babies and children at risk through a controversial experiment with ventilators without sufficient parental consent. He was cleared in October and so returned to his post.

Previously he had been at the centre of a dispute when parents were secretly filmed while looking after their children; some were found to be intentionally harming them. That led to arguments over privacy.

It is understood though that none of the complaints made over those areas of treatment has been put forward to the GMC's Professional Conduct Committee, which will convene the hearing. Instead, it will focus on the three child abuse cases in which Professor Southall was closely involved.

2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd


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