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Meadow faces GMC over evidence given in child death cases

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 01 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:9
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. London

    The eminent paediatrician Roy Meadow is to face charges of serious professional misconduct from the General Medical Council over his role as a witness for the prosecution in three trials where mothers were wrongly accused of killing their babies.

    Alan Williams, a Home Office forensic pathologist who gave evidence in one of those cases, will also be charged with serious professional misconduct by the GMC. Dr Williams's hearing is likely to take place in the summer and that of Professor Meadow in the autumn. The cases will attract immense public interest, after the acquittal of Trupti Patel and the overturning on appeal of murder convictions against Sally Clark and Angela Cannings, all of whom were accused of killing their children.

    The government has set up a joint working party, chaired by Helena Kennedy, whose task is to come up with a national protocol for investigating sudden infant deaths.

    The Crown Prosecution Service is to review 50 convictions in which Dr Williams gave evidence for the prosecution, stretching back seven years. The service is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether cases involving Professor Meadow will also be reviewed.

    Professor Meadow's dictum that “one infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder” became known as Meadow's law. Trupti Patel lost three babies. Sally Clark lost two. Angela Cannings lost three, but was accused of killing two.

    The complaint against Dr Williams was lodged with the GMC by Sally Clark's former MP, Martin Bell. It is not known who lodged the complaint against Professor Meadow, but most criticism of his role has also centred on the Clark case. Sally Clark was convicted in 1999 of smothering her two infants.

    Professor Meadow told the jury that the chance of two cot deaths occurring in an affluent family was one in 73 million.

    When Ms Clark's conviction was overturned the Court of Appeal described Professor Meadow's evidence as “grossly misleading.” It was also found on appeal of the case that Dr Williams had withheld evidence of Staphylococcus aureus infection in the cerebrospinal fluid of Harry Clark, the second of Sally Clark's babies to die.

    Neither Dr Williams nor Professor Meadow are commenting on the GMC case, but Alan Craft, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, spoke to the BMJ about Professor Meadow, who is himself a former president of the college.

    Professor Craft said: “I'm glad the case will come before the GMC, and I'm sure Roy is too. It will be his first chance to publicly answer the criticisms that have been levelled against him. This whole furore about his statistical evidence is misleading, because he was asked about the chances of two children dying from sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS], when it was already established in the Clark case that neither the prosecution nor the defence claimed SIDS as the cause of death. Roy gave the right answer to the wrong question.”

    In a paper published in the BMJ ( 2002;324: 41) following the failure of Clark's first appeal, Professor Meadow said that the figure of one in 73 million he cited in court was taken from the report by Peter Fleming, Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (London: Stationery Office, 2000), which was carried out as part of the Department of Health's Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy.

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