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Monday, 29 January, 2001, 08:48 GMT
The pathologist
Professor Dick Van Velzen
Professor Dick van Velzen was carrying out his own research into cot deaths
Professor Dick van Velzen is the central figure in the Alder Hey inquiry. He is the man who has been accused of harvesting the bodies of hundreds of children from the children's hospital where he was the senior pathologist with a remit to carry out post mortem's on young children.

A specialist in cot death syndrome he represented for many parents the best hope of understanding why their beloved babies had died.

But as the Alder Hey scandal shows he went almost over night from being regarded as a genius to body snatcher.

A warrant for his arrest has already been issued against him by a Canadian court - charges he is expected to fight in court next month.

As the Alder Hey report was due to be published Professor van Velzen was said to be lying low.

The pathologist at the centre of the child organ-stripping scandal admitted he had taken some of the organs for research without permission.

In an interview with the BBC's Panorama last year Professor Dick van Velzen said that he had removed and stored the organs of 845 children at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, in Liverpool, where he was the senior pathologist from 1988-1995.

He claimed this was because the hospital had not given him the resources to carry out detailed post mortem examinations.

But the government report, published in Tuesday, is also expected to reveal the Professor van Velzen, 51, also kept a child's head stored in a jar.

He did admit that he had carried out his own research into cot death in infants - a subject on which he was a world authority - without seeking the coroner's permission, but says very little of this was carried out on children's bodies.

"We always did research. Everybody does research, but especially when you're an academic pathologist.

"But in reality we did very little research on all those organs," he said.

But he insisted he had not used the babies' organs to spring board his career.

"All our published research, 75, 80, 90% of it, has nothing to do with post mortem tissues. 90% of my papers - my best papers have nothing to do with babies' organs.

"My intention was to skate very close to the letter of the law with only one purpose - to achieve a better situation," he said.

He said that children were "much too precious to die without making use of every single scrap of information which could help the next child."

His research suggested that half the cot deaths in Britain were linked to a respiratory virus caught by small children.

Indefinite leave

Last October Professor Van Velzen was given indefinite leave from the Dutch hospital where he had worked for the last two years. He is currently on extended leave.

The Westeinde Hospital in the Hague said they were allowing him to stop work so that he could "clear his name" following the discovery of children's organs in a warehouse in Canada where he had previously worked.

A spokesman for the hospital said they would be waiting to read the report before deciding whethet they will be taking any action against Professor van Velzen themselves.

In reality we did very little research on all those organs

Professor Dick van Velzen

But it later emerged that he failed to tell hospital authorities that he had been sacked from his previous job in Canada for incompetence.

A warrant for his arrest was then issued by Canadian police after eight organs thought to belong to two five-year-old children were found in a cardboard box at a storage facility in Nova Scotia.

The court said that is Professor van Veltzen were ever to go back to Canada he would be arrested.

Now he is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in an attempt to have the charges against him dropped.

He faces one charge of "improperly offering indignity to human remains" which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

There could be a preliminary hearing for the case as early as February 8.

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