Letters David Southall case

GMC was not “too lenient” with Southall

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4027 (Published 12 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4027
  1. Catherine Williams, honorary reader in law1
  1. 1Sheffield University, Sheffield, UK
  1. williams{at}doctors.org.uk

Although Dickson is to be applauded for his partial apology to David Southall, I wonder who advised him on his response that the GMC was “too lenient.”1

In the Clark case, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence appealed the General Medical Council (GMC) decision, believing it to be too lenient. The court case proceeded on the basis that the panel decision was correct and leniency was judged against that background. Southall was unable to argue the merits of the case.

Subsequently, a differently constituted GMC panel considered his case, asking whether he had any continuing impairment to practise. This panel questioned many of the original panel’s key findings. A criticism had been that he was precipitate in reporting his concerns. The 2008 panel explained this was wrong because there is a duty to raise child protection concerns, and they accepted the opinions of four expert witnesses, who felt that the events could have indicated non-accidental injury. On the criticism for not interviewing the Clarks, the 2008 panel heard from the experts, who said that this was not the accepted practice. There is little serious content in the rest of the criticisms, which included being guilty of failing to state in a report that he had not seen the medical records, which the recipients of the report knew; acting when barred by his trust from doing child abuse work, when he did so initially as a private citizen and subsequently with permission; and basing his concerns on a “mere hypothesis” stemming from his work on smothering, work that is widely regarded as seminal.

Therefore saying the GMC was found to be too lenient gives a less than full picture. No responsible person who has read the 2008 determination should suggest that the GMC had been too lenient on Southall.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4027


  • Competing interests: CW is a member of Professionals Against Child Abuse (PACA).


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