Child Abuse Cases May Be Re-Opened

Article excerpt

Byline: By Rob Kennedy

Dozens of child abuse cases could be re-opened because of the evidence of a controversial expert.

Calls were today made for a review after a North East man had his conviction for raping a boy overturned because of the evidence of Dr Camille San Lazaro.

Dr Lazaro was criticised in 2002 for her role in the investigation into false claims of abuse at a Newcastle nursery by Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie.

Now her evidence has been blamed for Kevin Brown's conviction. He has served his seven-year sentence for raping the five-year-old boy.

Today it was claimed dozens of other convictions could be overturned after the Appeal Court referred back to the 2002 libel proceedings in which Dr Lazaro's evidence was branded "completely discredited".

Dr Lazaro, a senior lecturer and consultant paediatrician at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary and Newcastle University, is facing a probe by the General Medical Council in March.

Tom Watkins, of justice campaigners the Portia Campaign, said: "Every case she has been involved in should be looked at again. There must be a review here.

"I think cases where an expert's opinion has got someone convicted need to be reviewed. It's unsafe unless something else proves they are guilty.

"Without corroborating evidence of another kind that makes it certain that they committed the offence, it is extremely dangerous."

Brown, 38, of Medwyn Close, Bournmoor, Chester-le-Street, had already served the sentence after his conviction in 1996. Dr Lazaro's evidence had been central to the prosecution.

Lord Justice Kennedy told the court that in the 2002 libel trial, the doctor had been "completely discredited" in relation to her handling of a number of allegations of sexual abuse prior to February, 1995.

The judge ruled the conviction of Brown was unsafe in the light of fresh medical evidence. Brown had denied raping the boy.

Brown's first appeal was dismissed in 1997 but his case was referred back to the Appeal Court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission which investigates claims of miscarriages of justice. The CCRC obtained three medical reports, including one from a doctor at the forefront of the 1987 Cleveland Child Sex Abuse Inquiry, that suggested injuries to the boy may not have been caused by a sexual act. Ruling the conviction unsafe, Lord Justice Kennedy said medical evidence at the trial had been oversimplified to the detriment of the defence. He added that a large part of the prosecution case at trial had been reliant on evidence from Dr San Lazaro.

Lord Justice Kennedy concluded of the boy's injuries: "It now has to be recognised that what was found is capable of a number of explanations.

"If the jury had the advantage of hearing the additional medical evidence that we have heard, it seems to us that they would have been bound to have had serious doubts about the extent to which they could rely on the medical evidence to assist them to reach a conclusion.

"Were it not for the fact that the trial took place seven and-a-half years ago and Mr Brown has served his sentence we would have ordered a re-trial because the prosecution can still present a strong prima facie case. …