The paediatrician whose discredited scientific evidence resulted in the wrongful jailing of Angela Cannings for murdering two of her children is continuing to promote his controversial theories about child abuse to the medical community.
News that Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who is to face a General Medical Council hearing into his conduct next month, is continuing to influence medical thinking about child abuse issues has sparked outrage among families wrongly accused of killing their children on the strength of his evidence.
Cannings, who was wrongly jailed for killing her two babies, partly on the basis of Meadow's evidence, last week discovered she would not be entitled to compensation. Tomorrow she will have a private meeting with the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, at which she will raise concerns that Meadow is continuing to discuss his controversial theories at medical seminars in the UK and the United States.
Medical experts fear doctors have been too ready to diagnose on the basis of Meadow's theory about Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP), which suggests that parents harm their children to draw attention to themselves. As a result parents have been accused when their children's injuries have been due to other factors.
In Australia, the Queensland Court of Appeal has ruled that MSBP can no longer be recognised as a psychiatric disorder.
Meadow's principal claim about cot deaths - that one child's death in the same family is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, which became known as 'Meadow's Law' - has also been rejected by the British courts.
Despite the huge controversy generated by Meadow's theories, he continues to be a big draw on the lecture circuit. Later this month he will lecture to a 1,500-strong audience of child-protection workers from 30 countries at a conference in San Diego in the United States. The 'Quest for the Best' conference is billed as a platform for health workers to learn 'best practices'.
Meadow is to give a lecture entitled 'The Medical Diagnosis of MSBP - Warning Signs and Strategies for Diagnosis'. In a separate lecture, he will also discuss how the backlash against MSBP has affected the paediatrics profession. When Meadow addressed British doctors last November, they were awarded 'personal development points' on their CVs for attending.
Penny Mellor, who campaigns on behalf of parents wrongly accused of suffering from MSBP and will attend Angela Canning's (right) meeting with Goldsmith, said: 'Given the concerns about the use of expert medical evidence which were raised in the Attorney General's review of hundreds of criminal cases, many of which involved Meadow, I don't understand how he can be allowed to continue lecturing.'
Meadow was unavailable for comment last night, but his supporters have in the past accused his critics of conducting a vendetta against him. They say the actions of a handful of campaigners have damaged the image of paediatricians to the extent that many doctors are turning away from the profession.
The appeal court ruled that Cannings' conviction, made on the basis of the testimony of an expert witness, was unsafe. The ruling prompted the Attorney General to announce a review of almost 300 cases in which parents had been convicted of killing their children. The government also instructed local councils to look into almost 30,000 cases in the family courts where children had been separated from their parents.
Meadow also gave prosecution evidence in two other murder trials which were overturned on appeal. Sally Clark's conviction (right) for murdering her two sons was quashed after she had spent more than three years in jail. Trupti Patel was also cleared of suffocating her three babies.
Charles Pragnell, an expert defence witness in child prosecution cases, has said previously that MSBP allegations have been made 'with no attempt having been made to thoroughly investigate possible causes of the child's illness from genetic disorders, vaccine damage, effects of prescribed medications, exposure to toxic substances, or severe allergic reactions'.
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].
Thousands of parents who had children taken away from them on the evidence of the controversial paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow will not have them returned.
Ministers are to review as many as 5,000 civil cases of families affected over the past 15 years by Prof Meadow's now-discredited theory of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. This accused mothers of harming their children to draw attention to themselves.
Many mothers say that they have been vindicated in their insistence that they were wrongly accused and now want their children back. However, Margaret Hodge, the minister for children, has ruled out any widespread return.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Mrs Hodge said that it would be wrong to raise the hopes of the families torn apart by the doctor's theory. It was called into question following three major miscarriages of criminal justice and is being investigated by the General Medical Council.
Mrs Hodge said that the exact number of civil cases where Prof Meadow's theory had been used to remove children from mothers was unknown, but could run into "thousands or even tens of thousands".
She added, however: "If a miscarriage of justice was made 10 or 15 years ago, what is in the child's interest now? If the adoption order was made on the back of Meadow's evidence and that was 10 years ago, what is in the real interest of the child? If they were taken as babies the only parent they know is the adopted one. It is incredibly difficult. It is a really tough call to make.
"The sort of families that are coming forward are heartbroken families. But if the child was adopted at birth the sensible thing to do is to let it stay. As children's minister my prime interest has to be the interests of the child."
Mrs Hodge made clear that whatever she decided, those families who thought they had been wronged could go back to the family court.
"What is clear is that any parent who feels that a judgment was made on the back of evidence from Meadow would be entitled to go back to the courts and try to have the case reopened and would be eligible for legal aid," she said. "They can come forward and say there is new evidence."
She would not, however, issue guidance that all children in such circumstances should be returned.
"This is where we are hitting an increasingly difficult dilemma," she admitted. It would not be possible simply to "turn the clock back".
Prof Meadow's theory was discredited following the cases of three mothers who were wrongly accused of killing their children on his evidence. Sally Clark was cleared on appeal, Trupti Patel (right) was acquitted and Angela Cannings, who was jailed in 2002 for murdering her two baby sons, had the conviction quashed last December. On that occasion, three High Court judges said some of the professor's evidence was "simply wrong".
The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is examining a further 250 criminal trials involving Munchausen's Syndrome By Proxy, to see whether more mothers imprisoned for murdering their babies might be innocent.
Mrs Hodge is likely to ask local authorities to search through their records to find all family law cases involving Meadow. Some campaigners estimate that 5,000 children were taken into care because of Prof Meadow.
In these civil cases, children were taken from their mothers on a balance of probability that they were harming them or might harm them in the future. In criminal cases, harm has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Another option being considered by Mrs Hodge is to appoint a judge to trawl through the records of each authority to identify possible miscarriages of justice, but this would prove costly. In addition, the Government may ask Prof Meadow to surrender all his notes and files.
Mrs Hodge said that the enormity of the problem and the complexities facing her could not be underestimated. In many cases it would be extremely difficult to prove that Prof Meadow had been central to the decision to take the children away. Even if some children were shown to have been taken away unjustly it would not be a simple matter of returning them.
Addressing the question of the reliability of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, Mrs Hodge said: "The whole issue is a crucial one of whether this is a proper diagnosis."
She said she would wait for the verdict of the General Medical Council and the Court of Appeal, but one option would be to set up an international panel to review the theory, which is used as a diagnosis throughout the world.
Mrs Hodge said a further problem was the issue of compensation. As well as mothers suing their local authorities for taking their children away, there could be young adults who may sue for the loss of family life.
She said that she hoped that if it was not possible to reconcile families formally they would at least be helped to establish contact with each other in the way adopted children sometimes seek to do now.
"The Government is not running away from this issue," Mrs Hodge insisted. "I hope the families understand that these are really, really difficult decisions we have to take."
Her decision will be influenced heavily by the judgment of the Court of Appeal and by the General Medical Council, where Prof Meadow faces charges of serious professional misconduct. The hearing is likely to take place in the autumn and he faces a ban from practising.
Families whose lives have been blighted by his theory reacted with disappointment yesterday to Mrs Hodge's view that they were unlikely to get their children back.
A mother whose eight-year-old child was taken from her seven years ago after social workers suspected that she was suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy said: "Something has to be done by the Government. It is vindictive. They suspect you of this thing and it gets out of hand and you can't stop them."
The woman, who is 50, cannot be named for legal reasons. She added: "What gets me is it was enough for them just to suspect me of Munchausen's to take my daughter away. If I protest or dispute the evidence they say I'm lying and that proves I've got Munchausen's because lying is one of the symptoms. That's how it works."
NOTE: Sir Roy Meadow is "the godfather" of Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy. In fact, children's injuries and deaths in the United Kingdom are often described as having been victims of 'Meadow's Syndrome.' The harm he has caused to untold thousands of families cannot be overestimated.
A very important aspect of this article is that the specific cases cited (Clark, Patel, Cannings) included accusations by Meadow of "Shaken Baby Syndrome." This "junk science" diagnosis continues to be assigned promiscuously by medical "experts" (pediatricians, medical examiners, nurses, psychiatrists, and others) in the United States.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that we are suffering from an epidemic of these cases. Parents, most often fathers, are being indicted on murder charges and a significant number have already been convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms and even life in prison.
In a Pennsylvania case on which I have consulted, the prosecutor has announced that he will seek the death penalty. The accused father has no criminal record, no history of substance abuse or violence, no psychiatric impairments, and many friends and relatives who state unequivocally that he adored his baby son. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that he is culpable other than the fact that he was the sole parent present when the child was stricken and eventually died.
It is encouraging that the British government and Medical Council have undertaken investigations into these issues. It is disheartening that the U.S. government, the American Medical Association, and our courts continue to ignore these realities and persist in visiting manifest injustices on so many innocents.
5805 Charles Street
Philadelphia, PA 19135
The case of Angela Cannings, whose conviction for the murder of her two sons has been overturned by the Court of Appeal, has once again put the spotlight firmly on controversial retired paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow.
Sir Roy was a prosecution witness during the original trial, but his evidence was heavily criticised by QC Michael Mansfield during Mrs Cannings's appeal.
Mr Mansfield argued that, were the trial to take place now, it was unlikely the Crown would call Professor Meadow as a witness, or, if they did, it would "have to be done with a health warning attached to it".
Sir Roy Meadow
Educated at a grammar school in Wigan and Oxford University
Worked as a GP in Banbury
Became a senior lecturer at Leeds University
Took up chair in paediatrics and child health in 1980 at St James's University Hospital, Leeds
Former president of British Paediatric Association
Former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Knighted in 1998 for services to child health
Professor Meadow was also a central figure in two previous similar cases.
Solicitor Sally Clark won her appeal in January to overturn her conviction in 1999 for murdering her two baby sons and pharmacist Trupti Patel was found not guilty in June of murdering her three babies.
Giving evidence at the trial of Mrs Clark, Sir Roy told the jury that the chance of two children in such an affluent family dying of cot death was "one in 73 million".
But his claim was disputed by the Royal Statistical Society, which wrote to the Lord Chancellor to say there was "no statistical basis" for the figure.
And Sir Roy's estimate was criticised as "grossly misleading" and "manifestly wrong" by a judge during Mrs Clark's second appeal hearing.
Sir Roy first came to prominence in 1977 after publishing a paper in The Lancet medical journal on a condition he dubbed as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
This is a form of child abuse in which a parent induces real or apparent symptoms of a disease in a child.
Perhaps the most high profile example was the case of nurse Beverly Allit, who murdered four children and harmed nine others. Professor Meadow worked in this case.
But even his work in this field has been subject to controversy.
In the House of Lords recently, Earl Howe, the Opposition spokesman on health, accused the professor of inventing a 'theory without science' and refusing to produce any real evidence to prove that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy actually exists.
However, Sir Roy is most renowned for an observation in a book that became universally known as "Meadow's Law".
This states that: "one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, unless proven otherwise."
He has since gained him a reputation for being particularly severe when confronted with cases of multiple child deaths in one family.
Many supporters, however, have championed Professor Meadow, calling him a man of great skill and compassion.
It is also true that the Court of Appeal decision to quash Mrs Clark's murder convictions did not hinge on Professor Meadow's statistics.
Instead, the crucial factor was the revelation that evidence from pathologist Dr Alan Williams had not been made available at the original trial.
A CPS spokeswoman said Professor Meadow did not use statistics in the Patel and Cannings trials and had been just one of a number of expert witnesses to be called by the prosecution.
Asked whether he would be called again as a witness, she said: "There is no professional body that has found against Professor Meadow that we are aware of.
"It would depend on the case and what the evidence was whichever expert was chosen."
The General Medical Council said they were investigating Prof Meadow but would not release any further details.