Abuse Dr Faces Probe [Dr San Lazaro]
Abuse cases doc face probe Jan 26 2004 By Rob Kennedy, The Evening Chronicle Dr Camille San Lazaro. Dozens of child abuse cases could be re-opened because of the evidence of a controversial expert.Calls were today made for a review after a North East man had his conviction for raping a boy overturned because of the evidence of Dr Camille San Lazaro.Dr Lazaro was criticised in 2002 for her role in the investigation into false claims of abuse at a Newcastle nursery by Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie.Now her evidence has been blamed for Kevin Brown’s conviction. He has served his seven-year sentence for raping the five-year-old boy.Today it was claimed dozens of other convictions could be overturned after the Appeal Court referred back to the 2002 libel proceedings in which Dr Lazaro’s evidence was branded “completely discredited”.Dr Lazaro, a senior lecturer and consultant paediatrician at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary and Newcastle University, is facing a probe by the General Medical Council in March.Tom Watkins, of justice campaigners the Portia Campaign, said: “Every case she has been involved in should be looked at again. There must be a review here.”I think cases where an expert’s opinion has got someone convicted need to be reviewed. It’s unsafe unless something else proves they are guilty.”Without corroborating evidence of another kind that makes it certain that they committed the offence, it is extremely dangerous.”Brown, 38, of Medwyn Close, Bournmoor, Chester-le-Street, had already served the sentence after his conviction in 1996. Dr Lazaro’s evidence had been central to the prosecution.Lord Justice Kennedy told the court that in the 2002 libel trial, the doctor had been “completely discredited” in relation to her handling of a number of allegations of sexual abuse prior to February, 1995.The judge ruled the conviction of Brown was unsafe in the light of fresh medical evidence. Brown had denied raping the boy.Brown’s first appeal was dismissed in 1997 but his case was referred back to the Appeal Court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission which investigates claims of miscarriages of justice. The CCRC obtained three medical reports, including one from a doctor at the forefront of the 1987 Cleveland Child Sex Abuse Inquiry, that suggested injuries to the boy may not have been caused by a sexual act. Ruling the conviction unsafe, Lord Justice Kennedy said medical evidence at the trial had been oversimplified to the detriment of the defence. He added that a large part of the prosecution case at trial had been reliant on evidence from Dr San Lazaro.Lord Justice Kennedy concluded of the boy’s injuries: “It now has to be recognised that what was found is capable of a number of explanations.”If the jury had the advantage of hearing the additional medical evidence that we have heard, it seems to us that they would have been bound to have had serious doubts about the extent to which they could rely on the medical evidence to assist them to reach a conclusion.”Were it not for the fact that the trial took place seven and-a-half years ago and Mr Brown has served his sentence we would have ordered a re-trial because the prosecution can still present a strong prima facie case.”But, because that sentence has already been served, we order that the appeal be allowed and the conviction quashed.”Today the Crown Prosecution Service and the Criminal Cases Review Commission said it would be up to other individuals convicted of similar offences to seek an appeal based on the evidence of Dr Lazaro.Boris Worrall, of the CCRC, said: “The commission has not yet studied the judgment in detail, and although it is obviously open to interpretation, the circumstances of every case would have to be looked at individually. “A CPS spokeswoman said: “There are no mechanisms to check which witnesses have given evidence and it would be down to the defence to come forward. After the High Court criticised this doctor we looked at all live cases to see if there was any impact but there wasn’t.”A spokeswoman for Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust, which employs Dr Lazaro, said: “Arising out of the criticisms directed at Dr Lazaro, primarily in relation to the Newcastle libel case judgement, the clinical practice of Dr Lazaro has been extensively reviewed by four experienced assessors from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.”They recommended Dr Lazaro should return to work although not in the field of child abuse and pending the outcome of a General Medical Council hearing. The trust and the University of Newcastle accepted the recommendation.”A Durham Police spokesman said: “A thorough investigation was carried out into what was a particularly nasty offence. The facts were presented to a jury who convicted the defendant.”While noting the action of the Court of Appeal we feel there is nothing further we can add except to say we have no plans to look into the case.”The Chronicle reported in 2002 how two top sex abuse experts’ reputations were in tatters after they were damned by a libel trial judge.Dr Lazaro was blasted by a judge who awarded nurses Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed £200,000 in libel damages.The pair were accused in a Newcastle City Council report of systematic sex abuse of dozens of children at a Newcastle nursery. But Mr Justice Eady declared them innocent of all charges and condemned the report as a legal `shambles.’Dr Richard Barker, head of the review team which wrote the report Abuse in Early Years, was slammed for being unprofessional. The judge said his four-strong inquiry team had fallen under the spell of Dr Lazaro.Dr Lazaro had examined more than 50 children who had alleged abuse at the hands of the two nurses. She decided some of them showed signs of sexual or other abuse and her findings were used in the report which wrongly found Mr Lillie and Ms Reed guilty of abuse.During cross examination during the libel trial, she admitted that her reports to the CCRB, which had helped parents recover compensation from public funds, had been `exaggerated and overstated in the past.’After discrepancies were found in the medical notes of one of the children she examined, Dr Lazaro said: “All of this is a substantial professional lapse, I would have said.”The Home Secretary will decide on whether Brown’s case is suitable for compensation.