17 February 2006
|Professor Sir Roy Meadow is one of the most influential and respected paediatricians of his generation. Many experts say his work has saved countless children from unnecessary suffering. |
However, his distinguished career has been blighted by controversy.
After decades as a leading thinker in the field of child abuse, Sir Roy has become notorious as a central figure in three high profile miscarriages of justice.
He gave expert evidence in the trials of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony.
All three women were convicted of killing their children - and all three have subsequently been exonerated by the Court of Appeal after lengthy periods in prison.
Mrs Clark, a solicitor, was jailed for life in 1999 for the murder of her two sons Christopher and Harry.
At her trial, Sir Roy said the odds of two children from such an affluent family dying of natural causes were one in 73 million.
His claim was later disputed by the Royal Statistical Society, which wrote to the Lord Chancellor to say there was "no statistical basis" for the figure.
Others have said that once genetic and environmental factors are taken into consideration, the odds of a second cot death in the same family are closer to 200 to one.
Mrs Clark was eventually freed when she won her appeal in January 2003.
Sir Roy stood by his evidence at a General Medical Council hearing into his actions, but he admitted he had been insensitive to compare the odds of both boys dying naturally to those of four different horses winning the Grand National in consecutive years at odds of 80-1.
The retired paediatrician was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in July 2005, and was struck off the medical register.
But Sir Roy appealed, and the GMC's verdicts have now been overturned.
Angela Cannings served 18 months in prison for the murder of two of her baby sons. She was freed in December 2003.
At her appeal QC Michael Mansfield heavily criticised Sir Roy's evidence at the original trial.
He argued that, were the trial to take place now, it was unlikely the Crown would call Professor Meadow as a witness, or, if they did, it would "have to be done with a health warning attached to it".
Sir Roy's evidence in the Donna Anthony trial was similarly criticised.
Ms Anthony was found guilty of killing her daughter Jordan, aged 11 months, and her son Michael, aged four months, in 1998.
The prosecution in her case, relying on Sir Roy's evidence, had claimed the babies had been smothered, and that Donna Anthony had been trying to draw attention to herself.
Sir Roy, and another expert witness, told the court the chances of two cot deaths in a case such as hers were one in a million.
But Ms Anthony had always claimed her children had died of cot death.
Sir Roy first came to prominence in 1977 after publishing a paper in The Lancet medical journal on a condition he dubbed as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
This is a form of child abuse in which a parent induces real or apparent symptoms of a disease in a child.
Perhaps the most high profile example was the case of nurse Beverly Allit, who murdered four children and harmed nine others. Professor Meadow worked on this case.
But even his work in this field has been subject to controversy.
In the House of Lords, Earl Howe, the Opposition spokesman on health, accused the professor of inventing a 'theory without science' and refusing to produce any real evidence to prove that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy actually exists.
Possibly, Sir Roy's most telling contribution is an observation in a book that became universally known as "Meadow's Law".
This states that: "One sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, unless proven otherwise."
Over the years he gained a reputation for being particularly severe when confronted with cases of multiple child deaths in one family.
Many supporters, however, have championed Sir Roy, calling him a man of great skill and compassion.
A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health "His work has undoubtedly saved the lives of many children.