Oxford

Doctor misled courts in 'shaken baby' cases

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Media captionDr Waney Squier told BBC's Panorama programme she was "devastated" and stands by her evidence

A leading doctor who was an expert witness for parents accused of killing their children has been found to have misled courts.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) ruled that Dr Waney Squier had given irresponsible evidence outside her area of expertise.

Dr Squier, 67, based at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, disputed the existence of "shaken baby syndrome".

She said she was "devastated" and stands by her evidence.

The MPTS considered her work as an expert witness in six cases, including the deaths of four babies and a 19-month-old child.

In each case, Dr Squier, a paediatric neuropathologist, gave evidence stating the injuries were not consistent with non-accidental injury, or were more likely to have been caused by other means.

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'Dogmatic and inflexible'

But the panel found she misrepresented research to support her views and had brought the reputation of her profession into disrepute.

Her minority view on shaken baby syndrome was in contrast to the opinions of the majority of experts in the field, who argue the so-called triad - swelling of the brain, bleeding between the skull and brain and bleeding in the retina - is a strong indicator of abuse.

The panel heard Dr Squier disagreed with those opinions unless there was other evidence of external or internal injury.

In her evidence, she was "dogmatic, inflexible and unreceptive to any other view" which led her "to misrepresent and 'cherry-pick' from the literature", it said.

After the finding, Dr Squier said: "I've done my best to give an opinion based on my experience, based on the best evidence I can find to support my view."

She added that it was "backed by many, many people who are cleverer than I am, who are scientists".

'Failed in her duty'

Opening the case last October for the General Medical Council (GMC), Tom Kark QC said Dr Squier's conduct was affected by her "preconceived and blinkered approach".

He said: "She failed in her overriding duty to the court to remain objective and to assist the court."

Mr Kark added that among those misled would have been the families and other parties to litigation - the judges, lawyers and the other experts.

In most of the cases, Dr Squier - who had not actively worked in paediatrics for more than 40 years - was the sole expert instructed on one side of the litigation.

The panel was told she had given evidence in between 150 and 200 cases since the mid-1990s involving either medical negligence or cause of deaths in early months and years of life.

The hearing has been adjourned until next Monday, when the panel will consider whether Dr Squier's fitness to practise is impaired because of her misconduct.


Analysis: Dominic Hughes, BBC News Health Correspondent

This case reflects a wider, bitter row within the scientific community over the signs associated with babies that have been subject to violent shaking.

The majority view is that a combination of three brain injuries - known as the triad - must be present: swelling of the brain, bleeding between the skull and the brain, and bleeding in the retina.

Dr Squier holds a minority view that these injuries can occur in other ways, for example through a baby suffering injuries while falling over.

Having once been an expert witness for the prosecution, Dr Squier switched to the defence team.

Her friends argue she is now subject to a witch hunt. But an independent panel has found she overstepped the boundaries of what is expected of an expert witness.


Panorama: Shaken Babies: What's the Truth? on Monday 14 March at 20:30 GMT on BBC One.

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