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J R Soc Med. 2006 April; 99(4): 168.
PMCID: PMC1420791

Futures uncertain

Based as it is on the essays of various hierarchy of the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health (RCPCH), your editorial (January 2006 JRSM1) is misinformed. If it is true that paediatricians are deterred for fear of putting themselves in jeopardy when giving evidence in court, this is a myth perpetuated by the RCPCH who remain in denial of what the General Medical Council censures were all about.

The case against Professor Meadow was not just that he got his sums wrong on one occasion due to a misunderstanding of the CESDI (Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirth and Death in Infancy) Report. It was also about the duty of an expert to be independent of the side that called him; to be impartial, objective and competent; above all to be balanced and fair and not to stray into areas where he has no expertise; not to opine theory as fact.

The case against Professor Southall was not simply to alert the police of his suspicion based on experience. Rather it was to give an expert statement of opinion that a father was a murderer beyond reasonable doubt knowing only what he had seen on a television programme, thereby putting that father at risk of having his son removed.

Paediatricians who follow the legal rules and the guidelines written up by the GMC have nothing to fear. The RCPCH would do well to follow the example of the Royal College of Pathologists who addressed the problems and took immediate steps to put it right, rather than spreading unnecessary alarm in a misguided attempt to dilute the responsibilities of fallen colleagues.

It is hardly likely that the experienced and distinguished GMC panel, which included three doctors, would have acted so had they thought it so trivial. As to sanctions, it is not my purpose to be vengeful, and I am content to leave that to the judgement of the GMC.


Competing interest Father of Sally Clark


1. Abbasi K. Futures Uncertain. J R Soc Med 2006; 99: 1 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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