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Sally Clark doctor Southall wins right to return to work

22nd September 2008

A doctor who accused the husband of solicitor Sally Clark of murdering their two children has won his bid to be allowed to return to child protection work.

Dr David Southall, a former Stoke-on-Trent consultant paediatrician, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct after he claimed it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that Steve Clark killed his sons.

The paediatrician made the assertion after he watched an interview that Mr Clark gave to Channel 4's Dispatches programme in April 2000.

For the past four years he was banned from engaging in child protection work, but a General Medical Council Fitness to Practise Panel revoked the restriction with immediate effect on Sunday.

Andrew Reid, chairman of the panel, said: "You have acknowledged that you have learnt a lot from these proceedings and that it will impact on all the work you do. You have expressed regret for the impact that the PCC (Professional Conduct Committee) findings have had on the profession, and remorse that your actions have contributed to the fear that now exists amongst paediatricians involved in child protection work.

"The panel considers that you have demonstrated considerable insight into your previous failings. The panel is mindful that four years have elapsed since the PCC hearing in July 2004 and that eight years have passed since the events occurred.

"The panel has determined that, although the PCC considered your actions serious in 2004, the panel today, in the light of the evidence given to it by eminent paediatricians and your expressions of regret and remorse, considers that a finding of impairment is not justified."

Speaking after the hearing in Manchester, Dr Southall said: "I would like to say how pleased I am by the General Medical Council's decision today. I would like to thank my paediatric colleagues, especially those who came to give evidence on my behalf."

Dr Southall, aged 60, told the panel last month he still thought he was correct in raising the alarm over Mr Clark but admitted the language he used in the accusation was "injudicious".

He believed Mr Clark attempted to suffocate his eldest son, Christopher, in a London hotel room in 1996 following his description in the interview about how the child suffered a nose bleed and breathing difficulties.

Dr Southall wrote a report on the Clarks after talking to social workers and police officers involved in the case.

He said he owed an apology to the late Mrs Clark for his assumption that if her husband had smothered Christopher he must also have killed their second son, Harry, who died 13 months later.

But he maintained his concerns about the events in the hotel room remained and the incident "has not been explained by the passage of time".

Mrs Clark, 42, was convicted in 1999 of double murder but cleared by the Court of Appeal four years later. She died of natural causes at her home in Chelmsford, Essex, last March.

Christopher died nine days after the hotel room incident in December 1996 aged 11 weeks in the sole charge of Mrs Clark.

The couple's second son, Harry, died at home in January 1998 aged eight weeks.

GMC counsel Richard Tyson earlier argued the suspension should continue, although he noted there had been no breach of the conditions.

The failure to substantially change his position on the subject "shows a continuing lack of insight and a man who does not change his mind easily".

He had shown no remorse for his actions and had not yet apologised to Mr Clark even with the benefit of hindsight, Mr Tyson said.

Dr Southall was employed as a consultant paediatrician at North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent from 1992.

He resigned as a locum in June and is currently involved in paediatric work for a charity in Africa and Asia.

Dr Southall was struck off by the GMC last December after he was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in a separate case in which he was said to have accused a grieving mother of murdering her 10-year-old son.

The High Court overturned that suspension pending the outcome of an appeal which will be heard at the High Court in January next year.

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