After six years, baby murder case expert to face disciplinary panel

June 20, 2005

Professor Roy Meadow, whose controversial evidence was significant in the jailing of three innocent mothers, may yet be struck off SIR ROY MEADOW, one of the most celebrated and controversial doctors of modern times, will finally stand trial on disciplinary charges tomorrow in a case of major importance for the medical and legal professions. Almost six years after Professor Meadow gave evidence that helped to convict Sally Clark, a Cheshire solicitor, of murdering her two sons, the paediatrician will make a rare public appearance to answer accu- sations that his testimony was erroneous and misleading. Professor Meadow faces being struck off the medical register if found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC), while legal experts and paediatric specialists say that, irrespective of the outcome, the case carries serious ramifications. In one of the most high- profile hearings in the GMC’s 146-year history, Professor Meadow will be read a list of charges running to four pages and relating to statistics that he used during Mrs Clark’s trial and for articles in scientific journals. Appearing as an expert witness at the solicitor’s double-murder trial in 1999, Professor Meadow said that the chance of two babies dying of cot death within an affluent family was one in 73 million. In his testimony and in evidence to police, the paediatrician also referred to his much-disputed “Meadow’s law” on cot deaths — suggesting that “one in a family is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder”. Professor Meadow, 72, also contributed to the successful convictions of two other high-profile mothers, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony, and the failed prosecution of Trupti Patel. They, like Mrs Clark, all denied murdering their children and were eventually vindicated. Mrs Clark was freed in 2003 after more than two years in jail and two High Court appeals. Though judges cited errors in pathology when quashing her conviction, it is widely held that the sound-bite statistics given by Professor Meadow, who was then Britain’s most eminent child-abuse expert and a former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), were what persuaded the jury. The most impressive figure — the 73 million-to-one odds of double cot death — has since been rejected by the Royal Statistical Society and paediatric specialists, while Mrs Clark’s husband, Stephen, identified it as being at the root of the “terrible wrong” that saw his wife convicted. Professor Meadow has admitted that its use in the Clark trial was misleading. At the end of the GMC hearing, which is scheduled to last 20 days, the six-person panel will decide if the paediatrician is guilty of professional misconduct. If so, he faces a range of sanctions, from a reprimand to suspension or being struck off the medical register. Such a censure for Professor Meadow, who retired as Professor of Paediatrics at St James’s University Hospital, Leeds, in 1998, would demolish his reputation.

The Times

 

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