A consultant paediatrician of “international repute” who was struck off the medical register for serious professional misconduct has launched a Court of Appeal battle in his bid for reinstatement.
The action before three judges in London has been brought by Dr David Southall, who worked at North Staffordshire Hospital, over a High Court ruling last year which upheld the decision of the General Medical Council’s (GMC) fitness to practise panel to strike him off.
Dr Southall is urging Lords Justices Waller, Dyson and Leveson to grant him permission to appeal against the decision of Mr Justice Blake, who said he had made “truly shocking” and unjustified accusations that a mother drugged and murdered her son.
The paediatrician, one of the UK’s leading experts in the protection of children from abuse, had been asked by a county council to provide an independent report relating to the safety of her surviving son.
A GMC panel found in December 2007 that the doctor’s actions added to the distress of the mother - Mrs M, from Shropshire - whose 10-year-old boy hanged himself in 1996.
It accused him of having a “deep-seated attitudinal problem”.
Dismissing Dr Southall’s appeal, Mr Justice Blake said: “The unjustified accusation of murder ... was an abuse of the role of consultant and expert instructed in ongoing litigation.”
Dr Southall’s lawyers had argued at the High Court that the panel failed to give any or adequate weight to inconsistencies in Mrs M’s evidence, and to the totality of evidence from witnesses, including social workers.
They said it was Dr Southall’s concern that the panel “did not understand ... what child protection involved and the part played by doctors like him”.
The High Court ruling against him triggered a warning from Professionals Against Child Abuse (PACA) that it could have “further serious and negative effects” on the willingness of doctors to engage in child protection work.
Dr Southall’s QC, Mary O’Rourke, told the appeal judges that the case raised points of “principle and public importance”.
She said rulings in Dr Southall’s case had caused “confusion” among paediatricians and others in child protection over how to handle cases where parents and carers were potential abusers.
In other high profile cases, professionals had been accused of being “too trusting” and not being sufficiently vigorous in the questioning of family members.
But Dr Southall had been sanctioned because he was said to have been “over vigorous” in his questioning of Mrs M.
She told the judges: “It is of fundamental importance that paediatricians and specialists in child care fearlessly investigate the possibility that a child may be at risk or actually suffering from harm.”
Dr Southall, who worked as a consultant paediatrician at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital from 1982 before moving to the same post at the North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent in 1992, hopes this latest legal move will lead to his name being restored to the medical register.
Mr Justice Blake had ruled that the doctor’s conduct with regard to Mrs M justified striking off.
Dr Southall had denied ever accusing Mrs M of murder or conducting the interview with her in an aggressive and hostile manner.
It was argued at the appeal hearing that Mrs M may have been under a “misperception”.
A social worker at the interview did not record Dr Southall asking the questions he is accused of putting to the mother, Ms O’Rourke told the judges.
The hearing was adjourned.