Judge criticises paediatrician for “overstating” sex abuse allegationsBMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7358.235/a (Published 03 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:235
A senior consultant paediatrician from the north of England was strongly criticised this week by a High Court judge when he awarded a total of £400000 ($625000; €636000) in libel damages to two former day nursery workers who were accused of sexually abusing their charges.
In a case that carries echoes of the Cleveland child abuse scandal 15 years ago, when dozens of children were removed from their families, Mr Justice Eady said he was “entirely satisfied” that Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie were innocent and awarded them £200000 damages each.
The damages were awarded against the four members of a review team set up by Newcastle City Council to hold an inquiry after the two were prosecuted but acquitted after a judge ruled that the children were too young to give evidence.
Mr Justice Eady said the review team, which found that the pair had sexually, physically, and emotionally abused children in their care at Shieldfield nursery and were part of a paedophile ring, had been influenced by the paediatrician Camille San Lazaro and “clearly fell under her spell.”
Dr San Lazaro, a consultant paediatrician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle and senior lecturer in paediatric forensic medicine at Newcastle University, was a witness of fact rather than an expert witness in the libel proceedings. She examined 53 children from the Shieldfield nursery for suspected sexual abuse.
Mr Justice Eady said, “The truth is that, where physical findings were negative or equivocal, Dr San Lazaro was prepared to make up the deficiencies by throwing objectivity and scientific rigour to the winds in a highly emotional misrepresentation of the facts.”
Dr San Lazaro admitted in the witness box that she had “deliberately overstated and exaggerated her findings” when making reports to the criminal injuries compensation board for children seeking compensation for sex abuse, the judge said.
“Many thousands of pounds of public money were paid out at least in part as a result of her assertions,” he added.
The judge said he did not believe that Dr San Lazaro had set out “mischievously to mis-represent everything.” Rather, she was “unbalanced, obsessive, and lacking in judgment.”
Dr San Lazaro was abroad this week and could not be contacted.