Sally Clark passed away during the night on March 16 2007
photo: Howard Walker
A Home Office pathologist who claimed there was "overwhelming evidence" of a double murder in the Sally Clark baby case undertook "serious and repeated departures" from expected medical standards, a disciplinary panel heard today.
Mistakes made by Dr Alan Williams led to "very serious consequences for Mrs Clark and her family", the General Medical Council's professional conduct committee heard.
Dr Williams is accused of serious professional misconduct over postmortem examinations he performed on 12-week-old Christopher Clark in 1996 and eight-week-old Harry two years later.
Mrs Clark was jailed for life for smothering the boys, but had her conviction quashed by the court of appeal after spending three years in prison.
The committee, sitting in London, has already ruled that Dr Williams failed in his duty to consider all possible causes of death and said his postmortem of Christopher was so impaired it could not be considered reliable.
It also ruled he had withheld details of some blood samples taken from Christopher and had originally given the cause of death as lower respiratory tract infection - and "this did not have a proper scientific basis".
The committee is now considering whether the facts of the case amount to serious professional misconduct.
If he is found guilty, Dr Williams could be struck off or have conditions imposed on his medical registration.
Today, Sarah Vaughan-Jones for the GMC, said Dr Williams' cumulative actions fell "far below" standards expected of a medical practitioner.
She said his actions "potentially and actually had very serious consequences on Mrs Clark and her family", and there had been a "breach of an expert's important duty to give fair, accurate and objective evidence" at criminal trials.
Dr Williams had passed blame on to other people and some of his findings had no scientific basis, she said.
In mitigation, James Turner QC, for Dr Williams, said colleagues had heaped praise on the pathologist as being a "caring professional", and "honest professional", who showed great integrity.
There had been no deliberate move to deceive people, he said, adding: "Whatever has gone wrong has gone wrong inadvertently and in good faith and not in the cause of pursuing a crusade or hobbyhorse," against mothers whose children died.
"This is a case where the consequences were a result of an unfortunate combination and coincidence of errors on the part of a variety of individuals and institutions."
Dr Williams denies serious professional misconduct. The hearing continues.
A distinguished paediatrician admitted to the General Medical Council yesterday that he had accused a father of murdering his two babies on the basis of watching a television documentary.
Professor David Southall, a leading expert in child protection, intervened in the case of Sally Clark, the solicitor jailed for life for killing her two sons, in a "dogmatic and high-handed manner", despite having no professional involvement in the case, the GMC heard.
The consultant paediatrician had not seen any medical records or postmortem results relating to the death of Mrs Clark's two babies. But after watching her husband Stephen talking about his wife's murder conviction on a documentary, he telephoned police to state that the father rather than the mother had deliberately suffocated the babies.
He later reinforced his claims, stating it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that Mr Clark was a double murderer.
Prof Southall recommended that the couple's surviving child, who was at the time being looked after by Mr Clark, be removed from his care. Due to his eminence and experience the local authority seriously considered this.
Prof Southall, 55, consultant paediatrician at the North Staffordshire hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, pioneered covert video surveillance of parents suspected of abuse and was a strong advocate of the theory of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, whereby care givers fake or induce illness in their children to draw attention to themselves.
N.B."Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy" is a wicked and dangerous form of pseudo-science that caused thousands of parents to be falsely accused and wrongly convicted of child abuse. [Letter from a reader].
Kieran Coonan, his solicitor, told the GMC's professional conduct hearing in Manchester that Prof Southall admitted he had phoned the police to say that Mr Clark had killed both his children. But the lawyer said his client denied that what he had done amounted to serious professional misconduct.
Richard Tyson, representing Mr Clark, said Prof Southall's accusation was "astonishing and extremely serious", and amounted to him interfering in a case in which he had no professional involvement and with little information, and refusing to back down when difficulties arose.
"The most negative feature of his actions is the undue pain, distress and suffering placed on Mr Clark, who has already had to endure a considerable burden," he added.
When Sally Clark was convicted in November 1999 of the murder of her sons Christopher, 11 weeks, and Harry, eight weeks, Prof Southall was under suspension from his job over unrelated child protection matters and had agreed not to undertake any new cases.
Convinced of his wife's innocence, Mr Clark, also a solicitor, was fighting for an appeal and appeared on a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary in April 2000. He described on the programme how his son had suffered a nosebleed in December 1996 while in his sole care in a hotel room.
"There was blood running out of both nostrils and his mouth, he was obviously choking ... I was thrown into a panic," Mr Clark said on the programme. Eventually he poured a glass of water over the baby's head to clear away the blood.
Nine days later Christopher died inexplicably while at home with his mother.
In January 1998 the Clarks' second child, Harry, also died at home, sparking a police inquiry which led to Mrs Clark, now 39, being convicted of double murder.
Watching the documentary, Prof Southall was "stunned", the GMC heard. "It appeared extremely likely to me that Mr Clark must have suffocated Christopher in the hotel room," he wrote in a report for the authorities.
"I felt that the police had been misled... I was aware of a third child in the family and I contacted the child protection unit of Staffordshire police."
Gene find casts doubt on double 'cot death' murders
His theory, backed by research from covert video surveillance, was that nosebleeds indicated deliberate suffocation unless a rare illness was present.
Detective Inspector John Gardiner, who led the original murder inquiry, met Prof Southall but dismissed his claim, saying he had come up with "nothing conclusive". He added: "This illustrates how a well-meaning but scantily informed person can theorise about what happened."
A child protection inquiry later found no cause for concern and Mr Clark was never charged with any offence.
His wife had her murder conviction quashed in January 2003.
The hearing continues.
The husband of Sally Clark thought it was "a sick joke" when a senior paediatrician accused him of murdering his two sons, a hearing in Manchester was told today.
Steve Clark, 42, a solicitor, was giving evidence in the case against Professor David Southall at a hearing of the General Medical Council.
Professor Southall contacted police after he saw Mr Clark being interviewed on television while his wife Sally served life in prison for the murders of her baby sons.
Mr Clark said that he was beginning to get his life back on track after the chaos caused by his wife's arrest and conviction when Professor Southall made the allegations.
Mrs Clark was convicted in 1999 of killing her 11-week-old son Christopher and eight-week-old Harry.
Her conviction was overturned last year. Her book From Stolen Innocence: A Mother's Fight for Justice - Sally Clark's Story is currently being serialised by The Times.
Mr Clark was interviewed by social workers, and the courts appointed another paediatrician to review Professor Southall's claims. A second paediatrician did not agree with Professor Southall and the matter went no further. Mr Clark then lodged a complaint against the professor with the GMC in London.
Describing what he had been through, Mr Clark said: "I was quite stunned. For the last two and a half years I felt my family had been attacked by the full force of the state. I'd lost my son, who'd been taken away from me, and had lost my wife."
Mr Clark said that at the time of the allegations he had got his son back from foster carers and was trying to bring him up as a single father.
When he learned of Professor Southall's accusations, Mr Clark said his initial reaction was that it was "quite astounding" that a senior paediatrician could come to these conclusions "largely on watching a TV programme".
He said Professor Southall had made the claims without having talked to health professionals. "Initially I thought - is this some sort of sick joke? Then I realised it was not, it was deadly serious."
Professor Southall, 55, is one of Britain's leading experts on Munchausen's Syndrome By Proxy, a condition which apparently drives parents to harm their own children, in order to win attention. He currently works as a consultant paediatrician at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire in Stoke.
The professor faces a charge of serious professional misconduct and a charge that his behaviour was irresponsible or an abuse of his professional position. He denies both counts.
He admits accusing Mr Clark of killing his sons and of relying on the content of a television programme as the principle factual source for his concerns.
Broadcast on April 27, 2000, the Channel 4 Despatches documentary featured an interview with Mr Clark, in which he described a nosebleed suffered by their first baby, Christopher, in a London hotel, just nine days before he died in December, 1996.
Professor Southall saw the programme and told police it was his view that Mr Clark, rather than his wife, had killed Christopher and Harry, their sons.
He advised detectives that Christopher's nosebleed was consistent with suffocation and said he was worried for the safety of the Clark's third child, who lived with his father at the time.
Mrs Clark's conviction was largely based on the evidence of the now discredited paediatrician Sir Roy Meadows, who said the chances of two babies dying of cot death were 73 million to one.
Mrs Clark, who always protested her innocence, finally won her freedom when her convictions were dramatically quashed by the Court of Appeal in January last year after judges ruled that crucial medical information was not disclosed during her trial
The GMC heard that the Clarks' first son, Christopher, was born in September, 1996 and died at home, aged 11 weeks.
A port-mortem examination revealed that he had died from a lower respiratory tract infection.
The GMC heard that Harry, their second son, was born in November 1997, but that he died at home, aged eight weeks, in January 1998.
A Home Office pathologist concluded that Harry had been shaken to death and when Christopher's death was re-examined, it was concluded he was deliberately suffocated.
Both parents were arrested on suspicion of murder and Mrs Clark, who was a solicitor, like her husband, was charged with the murder of both her sons in July, 1998.
In November, 1998, the couple's third child was born and was taken into the care of foster parents with their agreement. After Mrs Clark's conviction in November 1999, he was returned to the care of his father.
Sally Clark, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her two baby sons, has told how the experience has 'destroyed' her life.
A book about her ordeal is being serialised by the Times newspaper.
In the book, she describes how difficult it has been to bond with her five-year-old son Tom.
She admits: "I am damaged by what happened. I am a different person. I can't cope. Things have got worse, not better."
Sally Clark says the three years and 81 days in prison and the long fight to clear her name have meant she is no longer the person she was.
The once confident solicitor can no longer bear to be in crowds, nor does she feel happy collecting her son from school.
Sally's husband Steve, who had to sell the family home and give up his solicitor's partnership to care for Tom and lead the fight to free his wife, says the couple agreed to be involved in the book so that their son would have a record of what happened to the family.
But he says they will receive no money for it: "The book has been written because the proper story needs to be told.
Sally Clark was pregnant with Tom when she was charged in 1999 with the murder of her first son Christopher, who was 11 weeks old when he died, and of her second son Harry who was eight weeks old.
When Tom, now five, was born in hospital, she was not allowed to be alone with him, and he was handed over to a foster family when he was 10 days old.
Her convictions were quashed in January 2003 after medical evidence was revealed showing Christopher died from an undetected lung infection and Harry from a bacterial infection.
Sally and Steve say they are still trying to rebuild their lives.
Sally is trying to bond with Tom (not his real name) after spending so long apart from him. But she says, even now, he runs first to his father or the nanny instead of her.
"Mornings are particularly difficult," she says. "Tom always calls out 'Daddy', never 'Mummy."
She adds: "I don't think for a minute that 100% of people think I'm innocent after all the things that were said about me in the press."
Her husband Steve, 42, tells the Times: "Sally isn't well and she never will be again.
"She constantly feels people are judging her."
He says he did wonder at times if his wife was guilty.
"I'm not a lovelorn idiot. I would by lying if I said it never crossed my mind - did she actually do it?
"But the you think, no, of course she didn't. She was a fantastic mother and she doted on the children."
The Clarks hope their experiences will lead to the government and the NHS taking urgent measures to ensure it never happens to anyone else.
Mr Clark says the most important change would be "for every death that is supposedly suspicious to be looked at by a properly qualified paediatric pathologist".
One of the hardest decisions the Clarks now have to make is whether or not to have another child.
In the book, Sally says: "Could either of us take the risk of being alone with a new baby, for fear that if something happened...?
"Neither of us could ever harm a baby, but we now know that you can be as loving and devoted a mum as anybody ever born and still wind up in prison, maybe for the rest of your life, for something that never happened."
After Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, another medical theory looks set to crumble.
Cases of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) examined in a review of infant deaths ordered by the attorney-general. Like the hundreds of parents accused of causing or faking illness in their children as a form of child abuse, those involved in SBS cases argue they have been damned by a medical diagnosis that does not hold water.
Sally Clark is the Manchester solicitor whose wrongful conviction for the murder of her two babies began the unravelling of Munchausen's, the abuse theory formulated by Professor Sir Roy Meadow.
She was originally accused of having shaken one of her babies to death. Several other mothers are in prison, convicted of murder or manslaughter on the basis of supposedly "classic" signs: bleeding in the baby's brain or eyes and fractures to the rib or leg bones. More have suffered the intrusion of social service investigations or have had their children taken away. "I have had lots of hopeful calls from families," said Rioch Edwards Brown, who founded the Five Percenters, a campaign group, after she was wrongly accused - then cleared -of shaking her son Riordan. "We now know that injuries producing these symptoms can be caused by trauma at birth or falls. Which is not to say babies are never shaken, but there is no such thing as a 'syndrome'."
This week the first anti- Munchausen's conference will take place in Australia. One of the speakers will be Charles Pragnell who was among the first to raise the alarm about the diagnosis in Britain.
Now living in Australia, Pragnell has witnessed the damage that can be wrought when zealotry overtakes common sense.
He was working for Cleveland social services when scores of children were taken into care on the say-so of Marietta Higgs, a paediatrician working on a now discredited theory about sexual abuse.
"One of the things we were supposed to learn from Cleveland was that social workers should not act on the basis of a medical diagnosis alone," Pragnell said.
"If you look at Munchausen's cases there is often no corroborative evidence."
The child protection service has a history of accepting theory as fact: satanic abuse, anal dilation, repressed memory syndrome and now Munchausen's and SBS.
"If a paediatrician suspects child abuse there is no need to give it a label," said Pragnell. "It's for the police and social services to investigate. By pinning the blame on someone the doctor is acting as judge and jury."
Yet one has to wonder whether the furore over Munchausen's risks the pendulum swinging too far the other way. Margaret Hodge, the children's minister, said up to 5,000 cases that had been through the family courts might need to be looked at again and added fuel to the fire by saying parents whose children had been adopted would not get them back. But a relatively small number of cases are likely to hinge on medical evidence alone.
Paediatricians are becoming reluctant to get involved in child protection, fearing complaints or worse. Several have had their car tyres slashed and their homes daubed with slogans.
Despite the criticism Professor Alan Craft, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said he retained "complete confidence" in thediagnosis of Munchausen's and believes the row can have only harmful consequences for children: "There is no doubt that some parents do abuse children. We are getting to a stage where (cases of) children being harmed will not be picked up."