What I learnt from having false allegations made against me

False allegations are a common problem in the family courts

False allegations made in court or by the media can be devastating and hard to disprove.  They are not uncommon in the UK family courts where litigants will receive state funding for their legal bills if they can claim to be victims of abuse.  This valuable privilege is an obvious motivator for some unscrupulous parents, many themselves raised in abusive families, to falsely claim victimhood and allege that the other parent has abused them or even abused a child.

What I learnt from my experience of false allegations

False allegations were made against me to my regulator (the General Medical Council (GMC)) and in the press, leading to a full Tribunal hearing.  I learnt 6 lessons from the experience:

  1. Few people, including friends and family, have the courage to stand up for you against obvious lies, when they fear public shaming themselves if they speak up;
  2. You need the whole hearted, loving support of one or two people to cope with almost anything;
  3. Public shaming would be trivial if the organisations with power over you acted with courage and integrity.  Public reputation on its own is shallow, fickle and worth little or nothing.  The damage is done by those with authority, as with friends and family, failing to stand up for what is right.  The judiciary let me down just as they did the postmasters.  They have form;
  4. You can do nothing to influence the people who are so angry or miserable that they love to find someone to hate or blame for their troubles.  They seem to find it easy to believe crazy things. They will always be there;
  5. You should always reach out to support those suffering public shaming because you may be their only support and could save a life;
  6. You need to keep detailed, contemporaneous records if you are to have evidence to defend yourself.

The true story

A report published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) at the time tells my story. The BMJ is subscription only but, with their permission, I reproduce it here.

Psychiatrist vilified by UK newspapers is cleared of all charges

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1893 (Published 3 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1893

A psychiatrist who was accused in the tabloid press of wrongly diagnosing mental illness in mothers so that social services could take their babies away has been cleared of all charges by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service.

George Hibbert, dubbed “the doctor who broke up families” in a front page story by the Daily Mail, ran Tadpole Cottage, a private centre in Wiltshire where mothers were sent with their babies for assessment of their parenting abilities.

In a case that echoed that of the child protection paediatrician David Southall, the newspaper took up the cases of mothers whose babies had been taken into care through the courts on Hibbert’s recommendation. The Daily Telegraph also ran similar stories.

The case took five and a half years to reach a hearing, at which the tribunal service panel found all the factual allegations unproved, meaning that there was no need to go on to consider whether the psychiatrist’s practice was impaired.

The panel noted that the expert witness for the General Medical Council, Margaret Oates, had confirmed under questioning by Hibbert’s counsel, Martin Spencer QC, that the criticisms she had made of his conduct “were matters which could have been dealt with locally, between professional colleagues, and need not have been brought before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service.”

Oates admitted to the panel that she was not an expert on “the dual role of a doctor who had a duty as a psychiatrist to his patient but who also had an overriding duty to the family court, having been instructed to provide an expert opinion,” said panel chairwoman Carrie Ryan-Palmer.

The hearing concerned the case of Miss A, who sold her story to the Daily Mail through the website www.cash4yourstory.co.uk. She had “a long and complex history of mental illness, familial difficulties, alcohol abuse and personal problems,” said Ryan-Palmer.

The consensus of psychiatrists was that Miss A had unstable personality disorder, borderline type. Hibbert gave her a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder.

Her four previous children were taken into care, and the family court ordered that she go to Tadpole Cottage in 2007 with her fifth baby to assess whether she was fit to care for him. At the centre she displayed disruptive and threatening behaviour, threatening to “smash the place up” if she was made to stay.

Hibbert recommended that the assessment be terminated, and Miss A left with her solicitor, leaving the baby behind. The next day she was admitted to St George’s Hospital claiming to be suicidal, although she later admitted that she was not.

The tribunal cleared Hibbert of telling a nurse at St George’s that Miss A had left of her own accord when he knew this to be untrue and of submitting a final report to the court that did not provide an accurate account of Miss A’s discharge from Tadpole Cottage. He was also cleared of failing to provide a care plan in advance of her discharge, and the panel accepted that he had no duty to provide one. Two other charges were dropped by the GMC.

Psychiatrist vilified by UK newspapers is cleared of all charges | BMJ http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g1893 

Good evidence is crucial for your defence

In my case, it was only my career and public reputation that was at stake.  For many, the stakes are overwhelmingly greater, with the threat of losing contact with children or even imprisonment if crimes are alleged.  It is crucial that those at risk of false allegations take urgent steps to defend themselves.

My own experience of fighting false allegations drove home the sixth of the lessons I learnt, that you need detailed, contemporaneous records as evidence if you are going to disprove them.  This lesson above all, motivated me to create ONRECORD.  We at ONRECORD are committed to helping those in trouble to make as strong a case as possible by making it as easy as possible to gather powerful, convincing evidence and presenting it clearly and persuasively.  I hope we can have an impact, promoting justice.

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