Doctor is cleared over trials on babies

Controversial paediatrician David Southall was cleared of serious professional misconduct yesterday in a case concerning breathing experiments on premature babies.

The General Medical Council's (GMC) fitness to practise panel concluded that Dr Southall had no case to answer.

It also exonerated two other doctors in relation to the so-called CNEP breathing tank trials conducted at North Staffordshire Hospital in the early 1990s.

The research involved placing premature babies into low pressure incubators so they could breathe unaided.

Legal representatives for Dr Southall, Dr Andrew Spencer and Dr Martin Samuels successfully argued for the case to be dismissed before the doctors were due to give evidence.

All three were accused of failing to ensure appropriate procedures were in place to obtain informed parental consent for participation in the trial.

Dr Southall was not present to hear the decision from the panel, sitting in Manchester, as he is working on an international development project in The Gambia.

Stoke couple Carl and Deborah Henshall had campaigned since 1996 to bring the hearing before the GMC and it began in May.

In December 2005 the Court of Appeal ruled the GMC should review its decision initially to reject their complaints against the three doctors.

Their two baby daughters, Stacey and Sofie, were placed into CNEP tanks at North Staffordshire Hospital in February and December of 1992. Stacey died after two days while Sofie survived but was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

The couple alleged they did not give properly informed consent to doctors for their daughters to be placed in the tanks.

Following the ruling the Henshalls criticised the procedures of the panel as "flawed", "one-sided" and having "no place in the modern world".

They vowed they would see a judicial review of the decision and repeated their calls for a public inquiry.

In April Dr Southall won his legal battle to overturn his immediate suspension from working as a doctor after being struck off the medical register in a separate case.

He was found guilty last December of serious professional misconduct after he was ruled to have abused his position by accusing a grieving mother of murdering her 10-year-old son.

A High Court judge overturned his suspension pending the outcome of an appeal against his striking-off later this year.

In 2004 Dr Southall was suspended from child protection work over his role in the case of solicitor Sally Clark, wrongly jailed over the death of her two sons.

He accused Mrs Clark's husband, Steve, of murdering the two boys, on the basis of a television interview.

In evidence to the GMC, Mr Henshall, 40, admitted he signed a consent form permitting Stacey to take part in the trial overseen by Dr Southall but said he did not read the literature.

He claimed he was not given any information about the treatment or made aware it was a trial.

Mrs Henshall, 44, said she gave verbal consent for Sofie to undergo the experiment but could not remember giving written approval.

Mary O'Rourke, representing Dr Southall, had accused the couple of pursuing her client in order to gain media attention. She also alleged they had both consistently told lies over the course of many years.

Panel chairman David Kyle said the Henshalls had courted public attention but concluded neither was dishonest.

The panel concluded that none of the three paediatricians' actions were inappropriate, inadequate, not in the patients' best interest or likely to bring the medical professional into disrepute.

In a statement, Drs Spencer and Samuels said: "No evidence was produced to show that any baby has been damaged by CNEP or by a poor quality of care."

Dr Southall was not available for comment.