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Pathologist found not guilty


Pathologist found not guilty

Northern Ireland's assistant state pathologist has been found not guilty of professional misconduct.

A disciplinary committee of the General Medical Council said Dr Michael Curtis was not at fault over an adopted Romanian boy's post-mortem examination in October 2000.

At the end of a week-long hearing in Manchester, the GMC's Professional Conduct Committee retired on Friday to make its decision.

Dr Curtis, 49, carried out two autopsies on baby David Briggs in October and November 2000.

He was accused of failing to notice significant damage to the 14-month-old boy, including evidence of multiple bone fractures.

The boy was buried without the injuries ever being explained.

Shortly after the first autopsy, David's twin brother, Samuel, suffered a fractured skull.

The boys' adoptive father, Geoffrey Briggs from Portadown, was later jailed for causing that injury.

Dr Curtis told the GMC hearing on Thursday that even with hindsight, he stood by his finding that the cause of death could not be determined.

The father-of-three said he had carried out about 7,000 autopsies throughout his career and that he had been embarrassed at his shortcomings in not identifying the fractures.

Dr Curtis's solicitor Charles Atkins said his client was relieved at the outcome and regretted his mistake in not spotting the fractures on the child.

"Dr Curtis is delighted at the outcome of the decision of the GMC," he said.

"He, of course, deeply regrets his failure to note the fractures at the first post mortem and everything that flowed from that.

"He is reassured to think that valuable lessons will be learnt from his experience for the benefit of the public and the medical profession too.

"Finally, he has been overwhelmed by the support he has received from both friends and colleagues, both here and in Northern Ireland, which has helped him through this very difficult period."

The GMC heard paediatric pathologists now attend autopsies on babies.

The hearing followed a report into the death of the baby, who was legally adopted by County Armagh man Geoffrey Briggs and his wife.

It is understood the couple, who adopted the boy and his twin brother, have been questioned by police in connection with the death.

Former overseas missionary Briggs, from Portadown, was later jailed for fracturing the skull of the child's twin brother.

A 45-page Department of Heath report published in September last year, was highly critical of the Craigavon and Banbridge Community Trust, which oversaw the adoption.

One of the key findings said there was a failure to visit and support the children along with poor record-keeping.

Romanian law

Briggs adopted the nine-month-old twin boys under Romanian law in July 2000.

Less than four months later, one was dead and the other had a fractured skull.

The first child was pronounced dead at Craigavon Area Hospital in October 2000.

It is understood a post-mortem examination was carried out at the hospital at the time, but no death certificate was issued, and the body was buried.

Just 13 days after that, the boy's twin was admitted to the same hospital with a fractured skull.

Briggs admitted having punched the child and was later convicted of grievous bodily harm, and sentenced to two years in prison.

The body of the boy's dead twin was then exhumed and a further post-mortem examination was ordered.

That showed he had suffered extensive fractures to his ribs and body, none of which have ever been explained.

2004 Jan 16