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FAMILY COURTS “LIKE WITCHFINDER GENERAL”

26-10-2006

Birmingham MP John Hemming is sure to cause a furore today by comparing Britain's family courts to the “Witchfinder General” - he's written to the Attorney General demanding a inquiry into a system which he says has destroyed “large numbers” of families.

Hemming, the MP for Yardley, has described what he calls a “perfect storm” of cases which he believes make change essential.

These include the convictions of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings for killing their own children, on the basis of discredited evidence provided by the paediatrician Sir Roy Meadows, pioneer of a condition known as Munchausens Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP).

According to Meadows, parents with MSBP harm their children in order to attract attention to themselves, but many experts now doubt whether it even exists.

Clark and Cannings werecleared of their crimes, but only after serving time in prison, and the doctor was later condemned by the General Medical Council, which today won the right in the High Court to discipline unreliable expert witnesses.

There have also been concerns about another leading advocate of theMunchausen's theory, Dr David Southall, who faces a GMC hearing next month.

Hemming has tabled a series of Commons questions about Southall whose experiments on children thought to be at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome have also been criticised.

Dozensoffiles relating to Southall's work are still secret and Hemming is reporting North Staffs Hospital in Stoke - where many of the tests were carried out - to the Information Commissioner.

Underlying all this, the MP wants a change in what he regards as the culture of secrecy in family courts which he believes protects wrong-doing by medics and social workers - and denies families their rights. He claims there isa conflict of interest when those involved in caring for or treating youngsters are called to give evidence about them.

Hemming said: “False allegations have been made by a small number of paediatricians and social workers. These have simply been taken at face value. It is much like the working of the Witchfinder General of Kent Matthew Hopkins who made a very good living in the 1600 falsely accusing women of being witches. Some hundreds were executed.

“The same process today has resulted in the destruction of large numbers of families and effective life sentences for innocent mothers. Professionals should not be allowed to hide false evidence behind the secrecy of the family courts."

Is John Hemming going over the top? Or are the family courts really like the Witchfinder General? leave a comment on our messageboard.

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