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False allegation doctor 'irresponsible'

BRITAIN: A leading British paediatrician hitherto regarded as an expert on child abuse was yesterday found guilty of serious professional misconduct and banned from any kind of child protection work for three years.

The General Medical Council branded the action of Prof David Southall which led to the case as "inappropriate", "irresponsible" and "misleading".

In April 2000, Prof Southall was watching a Channel 4 documentary about a solicitor, Sally Clarke, who was cleared of killing her two children, Christopher and Harry. Unprompted, Prof Southall rang the police to say that in his "expert" opinion, Mrs Clarke's husband, Steve Clarke, had killed the children.

Mr Clarke said yesterday that he hoped the GMC verdict would send out a "strong message". Prof Southall was told he will not be able to engage in any aspect of child protection work either in or outside the NHS for the next three years.

He has effectively been working under this ban since 1999 after his employers at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire in Stoke imposed it while he was suspended and when complaints were lodged with GMC.

The consultant paediatrician, who vowed to "continue working for children", will now face the GMC again in January when seven further sets of parents' complaints are heard.

Mr Clark (42) said in a statement after the verdict: "It is a sad day when a doctor is dragged before his professional body, is found guilty of serious professional misconduct and has sanctions imposed upon him. As a professional myself, I take no satisfaction from it. However, as a father, the sole purpose of bringing my complaint, four long years ago, was to try to ensure that no other innocent parent is ever again falsely accused of harming their children.

"I hope that the committee's finding of serious professional misconduct against Prof Southall, and the imposition of conditions preventing him from working in the child protection field for three years, will send a strong message to him and to any other like-minded doctors that irresponsible and reckless allegations of child abuse against innocent parents are simply not acceptable and will no longer be tolerated.

"I am also, of course, relieved that at last my complaints have been upheld and I have been fully exonerated from any blame."

Prof Southall wrote his report on the Clarks after viewing the TV programme and talking to social workers and police officers.

He later said it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that Mr Clark had killed his children and expressed concern for the Clarks' remaining child, Child A.

Dr Denis McDevitt, chairman of the professional conduct committee, said it was "extremely concerned" Prof Southall had formed a "definite view" without interviewing the Clarks or seeing medical reports.

"Taking into account the facts found proved against you, including inappropriate and irresponsible behaviour and an abuse of your professional position, the committee consider your conduct amounts to a serious departure from the standards expected from a registered medical practitioner. The committee are concerned that at no time during these proceedings have you seen fit to withdraw these allegations or to offer any apology."

Mrs Clark (40) was convicted in 1999 of murdering her two sons but cleared by the Court of Appeal in January 2003.

At the time Prof Southall made the allegations, he was suspended from his job at the University Hospital while complaints about his work in relation to child protection, research and his personal conduct were investigated. He was cleared and reinstated in October 2001.

Irish Times

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