Child Abuse Expert Meadow Reinstated

Sir Roy Meadow, the paediatrician struck off by the General Medical Council for giving misleading evidence that helped to convict Sally Clark of murdering her two children, was reinstated by the Court of Appeal yesterday.

By a majority it backed a High Court ruling that he was not guilty of serious professional misconduct, clearing Sir Roy’s name.

But the Appeal Court also ruled that the GMC was right in claiming the right to discipline expert witnesses, so both sides could claim a victory.

Sir Roy, using data from another expert, incorrectly claimed at Mrs Clark’s trial that the odds against two cot deaths in the same family were 73 million-to-one. His evidence formed part of the prosecution case that led to her conviction. But by discrediting it her lawyers were able to obtain an acquittal on appeal.

Sir Roy, 73, and now retired, was then struck off by the GMC, but he appealed to the High Court to reverse the decision and and won his case. The court ruled that all expert witnesses should be immune from disciplinary action and that Sir Roy was not guilty of serious professional misconduct and that his striking off should be quashed.

The Appeal Court yesterday found for the GMC on the first point, while affirming the lower court’s judgment on the striking off.

Sir Roy said: “I am glad that the Court of Appeal has agreed with the previous High Court judgment that my evidence in the trial of Mrs Clark was not an example of serious professional misconduct, and that the GMC was wrong in its judgment of me.”

Finlay Scott, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: “This appeal was about protecting the public interest. The public must be confident that doctors and other professionals who give evidence in court proceedings can, if necessary, be held to account by their regulator.

“We did not accept that the GMC should be prevented from using its statutory powers when we judge it to be necessary, and the Court of Appeal has confirmed that we were correct.”

Lawyers for the GMC had argued at a hearing at the Court of Appeal in July that the High Court decision rendered the disciplinary body “toothless” against professionals acting as expert witnesses.

The panel of appeal judges, headed by Sir Anthony Clarke, the Master of the Rolls, were told by Nicola Davies, QC, representing Sir Roy, that as an expert witness he was covered by immunity from any form of action against him over what he said in court.

Miss Davies said the GMC’s Fitness to Practise Panel had found that the evidence given by Sir Roy represented his honestly held opinion and there was no question of any failure to use his best endeavours when he gave evidence at the Sally Clark trial.

But the panel nevertheless ruled that his conduct was “fundamentally incompatible with what is expected by the public from a registered medical practitioner”.

Sir Roy, a distinguished paediatrician and expert in sudden infant death syndrome, gave evidence in the trials of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony, all of whom were jailed for murdering their children but later cleared by the Court of Appeal.

In their reserved ruling the appeal judges accepted arguments made by the GMC and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, who intervened in the case because of the important public policy issue, that there was no such thing as immunity for expert witnesses.

By a majority, the judges dismissed the GMC appeal over serious professional misconduct with Sir Anthony dissenting. Lord Justice Auld said Sir Roy was undoubtedly guilty of some professional misconduct, but said: “I could not contemplate erasure as an appropriate penalty for Professor Meadow’s uncharacteristic honest errors in this difficult case.”

Lord Justice Thorpe said: “Professor Meadow’s evidence, flawed though it was, fell far short of serious professional misconduct.”

Christine Tomkins, deputy chief executive of the Medical Defence Union, said: “We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has sided with the High Court in finding Professor Meadow not guilty of serious professional misconduct. She said the MDU, which supported Sir Roy’s court battle, was considering whether to appeal to the House of Lords on the issue of immunity.

The family of Sally Clark said last night: “The Court of Appeal has decided that experts who give flawed evidence should not be immune from disciplinary proceedings by their professional bodies.

“Professor Meadow has not been totally vindicated as he is apparently claiming. All three judges found him guilty of professional misconduct.

“One positive outcome of this decision is that the large number of parents who have complaints against Professor Meadow pending with the GMC will now be able to be heard.”

Patricia Hamilton, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that it welcomed the recommendation for changes to the rules governing the GMC to minimise the risk of witnesses being vexed by “unmeritorious complaints”. She said: “The college will be working with the GMC on this so that paediatricians are not deterred from undertaking responsibilities in safeguarding children.”

A spokesman for the Society of Expert Witnesses said:“Unless the justice system deals with the failure to handle conflicting scientific opinion, today’s judgment can only add to the growing exodus of experts prepared to assist tribunals.”