A Test case accusing
paediatrician David Southall of psychological damage could open
the floodgates to dozens of similar claims by angry parents. A
mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has won
permission to appeal in the House of Lords for the right to sue
Professor Southall for damages after he accused her of child
If successful, the test case could mean up to 120 parents lining
up to sue the North Staffordshire doctor.
The mother and her son were seen by the paediatrician at the
University Hospital of North Staffordshire more than nine years
ago when the family's GP, in East Berkshire, described the young
boy as "the most allergic patient I have ever known".
But in 1994, Professor Southall accused the mother in medical
records of having Munchausen syndrome by proxy and faking or
inducing illness in the child to draw attention to herself.
She did not find out about the accusations until 1997, her
solicitor Rachael Vasmer said, when she finally saw the medical
Her son, now a teenager, was admitted to hospital after Prof
Southall said he was at risk of harm.
Three months later he was removed from the at-risk register when
his condition was properly diagnosed, but his mother claims to
have suffered acute anxiety and depression as a result of the
Both the lower courts and the court of appeal dismissed her
right to sue, ruling it would be against public policy for
parents to be able to take action over mistaken diagnoses
relating to their children, but she is now taking it to the law
lords this autumn.
In previous cases it has been ruled the child can sue but
parents also affected cannot.
Solicitor Mrs Vasmer said: "At present, parents who suffer
injury because they are falsely accused of harming their
children cannot claim compensation. The interests of the
children are paramount but this does not mean that the rights of
parents should be ignored.
"These allegations can have devastating consequences on the
parents involved and, in my view, it is wrong to deny parents a
remedy when allegations are made without reasonable grounds. If
successful these cases will widen the duty of care to include
parents who are injured when doctors and social workers make
There are an estimated 120 civil cases in which Prof Southall
was called as the expert witness and children were taken from
their parents and placed in care.
A GMC verdict recently found the professor guilty of abusing his
position after the hospital consultant told police a man had
killed his two babies on the strength of watching a television
It will now decide in August if his actions make him guilty of a
serious professional misconduct charge which could see him
struck off, suspended or reprimanded.
The mother involved in the test case has also lodged an official
complaint with the General Medical Council.
A spokesman for the GMC confirmed seven outstanding complaints
against Prof Southall are yet to be dealt with by the council,
but could not confirm any allegation details.
A hospital spokesman said: "We cannot comment in detail on
specific child protection cases or allegations to the media
about them. Professor Southall has received legal advice he
should not comment until the GMC has decided what, if any,
action they should take on cases being considered by them.
"However, following a two year investigation into
allegations including some concerning child protection issues,
during which Professor David Southall was suspended from his
post he was reinstated after no case to answer was found in
respect of professional misconduct or incompetence."
He added that a panel of health experts found Professor Southall
"always acted in a way that promoted the best interests of
children under his care and that he took decisions in
collaboration with colleagues from other agencies. They did not
find any evidence of inappropriate diagnosis."