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Southall appeals against being struck off medical register

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 24 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1684
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

    David Southall, the child protection paediatrician who was struck off the medical register for accusing a mother of murdering her son, launched a fresh bid for reinstatement at the Court of Appeal in London this week.

    Dr Southall, described as a paediatrician “of international repute,” is appealing against a High Court ruling last year that upheld the General Medical Council’s decision to strike him off for serious professional misconduct (BMJ 2009;338:b1360, doi:10.1136/bmj.b1360).

    Dismissing his original appeal last May, Mr Justice Blake said that the paediatrician’s conduct was “truly shocking” and “an abuse of the role of consultant and expert instructed in ongoing litigation.”

    Dr Southall’s counsel, Mary O’Rourke QC, told Lords Justices Waller, Dyson, and Leveson at the appeal court in London that the GMC’s fitness to practise panel had given no reasons for finding against him.

    Dr Southall did not know why they had accepted the mother’s evidence that he had accused her of killing her elder son and rejected evidence from him and from a social worker who was present, both of whom took contemporaneous notes, that he had not made the accusation.

    The panel found in December 2007 that Dr Southall had accused Mandy Morris, whose 10 year old son Lee was found hanged, of drugging him and hanging him herself. Dr Southall, then a consultant paediatrician and expert in fabricated or induced illness, was instructed by a county council in 1998 to prepare a report in care proceedings involving her younger son and was interviewing her in the presence of a senior social worker, Francine Salem.

    His case is that he had not accused her of murder but was outlining a range of possible scenarios. Her belief that she had been accused was a misperception, he argued.

    A doctor “of international repute with a long and distinguished career” had lost his medical registration, but he did not know why his evidence was not accepted, Ms O’Rourke said.

    The appeal, if successful, could put GMC panels under a stronger obligation to give reasons for their decisions, as has happened in recent years with other bodies, such as the Parole Board.

    Ms O’Rourke said that the High Court ruling had “excited a frenzy” among paediatricians, who had thought they would be protected from unfounded complaints if a “chaperone” who took notes was present at an interview with parents who were suspected of child abuse.

    In the Baby P case doctors were criticised for accepting a mother’s word too readily, but Dr Southall was sanctioned because he was said to have been “over vigorous” in his questioning of the mother of a dead child, she added. Paediatricians now thought “they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.”

    The panel found Mrs Morris a “clear, honest, and credible” witness and decided that Ms Salem’s evidence “in many respects”—which were not specified—was not “wholly convincing.” Although Dr Southall gave evidence for two days, his evidence was totally ignored in the panel’s determination.

    “If the panel are saying both of them [Dr Southall and Ms Salem] were telling lies, they have a right to know why they were disbelieved,” said Ms O’Rourke.

    The judges are expected to deliver their judgment within a few weeks.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1684

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