We were interested to see the launch of the Byline Times in March.

Byline Times does not intend to report the daily news cycle. That’s for others. Our aim is to concentrate on ‘what the papers don’t say’.

The heart of our paper will be investigations. We will follow the story wherever it goes, without fear or favour.No PR company, advertiser or press baron can influence the stories we choose. Our integrity will come from our editorial independence.

But we are not neutral. Accurate information is the lifeblood of a democracy and, while everyone is welcome to their own opinions, you cannot have your own facts. 

So the Byline Times makes a clear separation between fact and argument, reporting and comment. Freedom of speech does not mean a license to deceive. And we are partisan about one thing – the truth.

It was therefore a little disappointing that its first article that appeared to be about family justice looked like an old chestnut. In ‘The Justice Trap: How Medical Orthodoxy can be Judge, Jury and Executioner’ (7 March 2019)

Jon Robins wrote about the case of Effie Stillwell, which we wrote about three times back in April and May 2017. He provides no link for readers to the family court judgment nor even the information that it is available to them as a matter of record:

We were not at first clear why the Byline Times thought this story (which briefly repeats claims about shaken baby syndrome and Ehlers Danlos syndrome) was newsworthy now. The final paragraph however says that, after months of procrastination:

This week, an academic journal dedicated to innovation and ‘challenging prevailing views’ has finally published an issue covering shaken baby syndrome…

Oddly, there is no link to the article either, but we found the following link immediately through google: ‘Prometheus Shaken Baby Debate’ by Stuart Macdonald et al, published on 4th March 2019.

We assume this must be the article ‘in an academic journal’ that Jon Robins has read. It is free to download but nearly 200 pages long – and we haven’t found time to read it. We can see that it is all about the medical controversies concerning Dr Waney Squier and the abstract does mention the role of the expert witness in court.   

It comprises:

An Introduction to the shaken baby debate by Stuart Macdonald; a proposition paper from Dr Waney Squier, entitled ‘Shaken baby syndrome: causes and consequences of conformity’; and ten response papers (Shaken baby syndrome: a fraud on the courts by Heather Kirkwood; Shaken baby: an evolving diagnosis deformed by the pressures of the courtroom by Susan Luttner; Waney Squier’s ordeal and the crisis of the shaken baby paradigm by Niels Lynøe; Another perspective – simply my brief thoughts by Dave Marshall; Has Squier been treated fairly? by Brian Martin; Commentary on the paper by Waney Squier: ‘Shaken baby syndrome: causes and consequences of conformity’ by Michael J Powers; Waney Squier and the shaken baby syndrome case: a clarion call to science, medicine and justice by Toni C Saad; The role of the General Medical Council by Terence Stephenson; When experts disagree by Stephen J. Watkins; The General Medical Council’s handling of complaints: the Waney Squier case by Peter Wilmshurst.)

We are posting this in case any of our readers wish to research the debate further, but we have no view (at this stage at least), on the contribution made by the ‘Prometheus’ publication. 

Whilst we acknowledge that the Byline Times piece sets out to be a ‘news’ item, it strikes us as some way from the informed critical analysis and grasp of detail, complexity and  nuance that Will Storre [error updated AT 25/07/19], for example, offered readers of the Guardian in 2017; and which seems to us warranted in the face of such complexity, controversy and importance for families and child protection alike.

Whilst the issues raised by Effie’s case and others like it are undoubtedly of huge public importance, we don’t think the implication in the piece that disciplinary proceedings against Dr Squier were a result of her willingness to challenge medical orthodoxy represents the full picture. Robins says :

Dr Squier, a former consultant at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, is one of a few experts prepared to speak out against the medical orthodoxy. To do so is to incur the wrath of the establishment and hugely controversial …Dr Squier has been effectively silenced since being banned from practising in the UK in 2016 following a ruling by the General Medical Council’s disciplinary tribunal which concluded that she had lied and misled the courts. Her licence was reinstated after a successful appeal. However, she remains banned from appearing in court for three years. Clive Stafford Smith and Michael Mansfield QC wrote to the Guardian claiming Dr Squier had been scapegoated. A few months after the GMC’s ban, the High Court found ‘serious irregularity’on the part of its tribunal.

In fact, although the High Court quashed a number of the findings of the tribunal, Dr Squier was not completely exonerated, and she was made subject to restrictions on her practice that prevented her from giving expert evidence in the criminal, family or civil courts in the UK for a period of 3 years. That 3 years has not expired.

As summarised by The Guardian at the time, The High Court concluded that Dr Squier :

‘failed to work “within the limits of her competence, to be objective and unbiased and pay due regard to the views of other experts”.

A spokeswoman for the General Medical Council, which brought the case against Squier, said: “Mr Justice Mitting has confirmed that this case was not about scientific debate and the rights and wrongs of the scientific evidence, but the manner in which Dr Squier gave evidence.

“The ruling makes clear that she acted irresponsibly in her role as an expert witness on several occasions, acted beyond her expertise and lacked objectivity, and sought to cherry-pick research which it was clear did not support her opinions.”’

(Those who wish can read the full judgment here : Squier v General Medical Council [2016] EWHC 2739 (Admin) (03 November 2016)).

We think it would have made the piece more balanced if readers had been helped to understand the nuances of the controversy around Dr Squier’s opinions and practice as an expert.