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“Child abuse probe uncovers deadly role of axed drug”

Calls for inquiry after cisapride linked to 136 deaths

Jamie Doward, social affairs editor
Sunday February 1, 2004
The Observer

A drug linked to more than 100 deaths is being blamed for a series of gross miscarriages of justice that have seen hundreds of parents wrongly accused of child abuse.

A conference drawing together psychologists, social workers and scientists will hear evidence this week that a drug called cisapride - used to treat digestive problems and now withdrawn from the UK market - has resulted in hundreds of cases of wrong diagnosis.

Experts will claim the drug is known to interrupt the rhythm of the heart, causing some youngsters to turn pale and experience breathing difficulties. Campaigners say the symptoms have prompted doctors to wrongly accuse parents of trying to smother their children.

The revelation will raise further questions about the validity of the controversial condition Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) - first theorised in 1977 by paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow - which suggests some parents harm their children to draw attention to themselves.

Critics of MSBP, which has been discredited following a series of court cases, fear it blinds social workers, lawyers and judges to other explanations for apparent child abuse, such as the side effects of drugs or the symptons associated with a number of illnesses.

The conference, at Sydney University in Australia, aims to debunk MSBPand is set to attract worldwide attention. It will hear calls for a full investigation into cisapride, which was withdrawn in the US and the UK three years ago after it was linked to 136 deaths worldwide, including those of two British children.

'Given the amount of cases where cisapride has played a significant part in the child's treatment and the child's parents have been diagnosed as having MSBP, it is imperative the Government launches an investigation into this drug,' said Penny Mellor an anti-MSBP campaigner.

The Government said last month that it is to investigate more than 250 criminal cases in which a parent had been convicted of murdering a child. The decision was taken after a series of overturned convictions.

Sally Clark was freed after spending three years in jail for killing her two children. Trupti Patel was acquitted of smothering her three babies. Angela Cannings, jailed for killing her two sons, was released by the Court of Appeal last December.

The Government is also planning to ask local authorities to examine up to 5,000 cases in which children were taken from their parents in the civil courts and in which MSBP may have been cited. Authorities in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are also under pressure to examine cases in which parents were separated from their children following the diagnosis of MSBP.

The first civil cases involving parents who claim they were wrongly separated from their children as a result of MSBP, are currently being prepared for appeal.

Meadow and another paediatrician who has advanced the MSBP theory, Professor David Southall, are now the subjects of separate inquiries by the General Medical Council. The Observer has also learnt that there are at least four other experts in the field of MSBP whose work is now likely to be scrutinised by the health authorities.

Since The Observer highlighted the allegation that MSBP was responsible for a series of miscarriages of justice last week, numerous other cases where the parents claim they have been wrongly separated from their child have come to light.

In one case in Hampshire, a mother accused of MSBP was separated from her two seriously ill twins but allowed to keep her other two children. The twins were eventually put into care and the mother was forced to give the other two children up for adoption. She subsequently emigrated to New Zealand where she alleges British social services contacted counterparts there with the result that two other children she had with another partner ended up being taken into care. Her case is one of the first that is expected to be appealed this year.

Janssen Pharmaceutica, makers of cisapride, declined to comment.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903, 1136319,00.html