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BMJ. 2007 June 2; 334(7604): 1129.
PMCID: PMC1885346

Police look abroad for expert to advise on case of alleged salt poisoning

Wiltshire police investigating unspecified allegations against a paediatrician at Southampton General Hospital are seeking expert medical evidence outside the UK.

The case concerns a paediatrician who was involved in the care of a child whose mother was later charged with murder.

Marianne Williams, then 22, was charged in 2004 with the murder of her 15 month old son, Joshua Taylor, whom she was alleged to have poisoned with salt. She was found not guilty in October last year after a six week trial at Winchester Crown Court.

Wiltshire police officers are also under investigation for their role in the case. The Independent Police Complaints Commission [IPCC] said that it was “midway through” an investigation into a complaint about the conduct of the criminal investigation. Six officers had been served with official notice of the inquiry, although “this in no way implies guilt or wrongdoing on the part of any officer,” the commission said.

Detective Superintendent James Vaughan, the officer leading the Wiltshire force's inquiry into the allegations against the doctor, confirmed that Wiltshire Police would not be seeking medical advice in the case from any British doctors—a claim posted on the website forum Mothers Against Munchausen Allegations.

“One of the key aspects of this inquiry surrounds paediatric nephrology, which by its very nature is an extremely specialised field,” Detective Superintendent Vaughan said.

“In order to maintain the confidence of Joshua's family, and to identify an independent specialist who has had no connection with this or any other similar sets of circumstances in the United Kingdom, it has been necessary to seek assistance from overseas.” This was, he insisted, “not a reflection on the Wiltshire police's confidence in the United Kingdom experts.”

However, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said it was “surprised that the authorities consider it necessary to go abroad for expert advice, as we are confident that we have eminent experts in the UK who can offer an independent and authoritative opinion.” The college was, it added, “fully supportive of paediatricians who on a daily basis work to care for and support children—some of whom may need protection.”

On 19 May Penny Mellor, a campaigner on behalf of parents who have been accused of child abuse, had posted a comment on the Mothers Against Munchausen Allegations forum. The comment said, “The criminal investigation into the accusing doctor continues, with the IPCC deciding to recruit their expert from outside of the UK, they state that they cannot rely on any paediatrician in the UK to be honest given the evidence they have now read, their words not mine.” 

A spokesperson for the commission confirmed that, although the complainant was the dead child's grandmother, it recognised that Mrs Mellor was an “interested party” in the case.

Southampton General Hospital said the doctor in question was still working for the hospital, had not been suspended, and was not the subject of any internal inquiries.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group