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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Professor van Velzen blames managers and staff at Alder Hey"
 real 56k

Professor van Velzen
"I have not taken organs without parents' permission"
 real 28k

Ian Cohen, Solicitor for a group of parents
"The day that Professor Van Velson started at Alder Hey he changed the policy"
 real 28k

Monday, 5 February, 2001, 10:16 GMT
Alder Hey questions doctor's defence
Professor Dick van Velzen
Professor van Velzen has been barred from working in the UK
The hospital at the centre of the organs scandal is calling on its former pathologist to "substantiate his claims" that hospital management was to blame.

Professor van Velzen, speaking to the BBC, blamed the hospital's management for failing to explain to parents what would happen to their children's bodies.

An official report into the stripping of body parts at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital last week revealed that more than 100,000 organs were stored, many without permission. Mr van Velzen was suspended by the General Medical Council amid fury from relatives of the dead.

Acting chief executive of the hospital, Tony Bell, has said he was "deeply sorry" for the hospital's actions over a four year period, but added that pathologist Professor Dick van Velzen must now explain his comments.

President of the Royal College of Pathologists, Professor John Lilleyman, has also described the professor's line of defence as "surprising" as it appeared to contradict the findings of the report into the scandal.

He said: "He seems to say he was let down by absolutely everybody but himself."

Mr Bell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday: "It sounds like he is saying he instituted an international protocol which required him to remove whole body parts.

"But I wonder how he then communicated that with his colleagues who were required to gain consent."

'Surprising' defence

In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Professor van Velzen said: "I have not taken organs without parents' permission, I've carried out post mortems either with parental consent or on behalf of the coroner."

Professor van Velzen
Professor van Velzen had a huge stockpile of children's organs
"People forgot to tell the parents what a post mortem actually is. It is terrible but it is not my fault."

But the President of the Royal College of Pathologists, Professor John Lilleyman said the professor's actions could not be defended.

"I think the manner and scale of what went on at Alder Hey during what the report described as the 'van Velzen years' was quite extraordinary and really cannot be defended or excused in any way as acceptable professional practice, even by the standards of the time," he told the Today programme.

Mr Bell said that Alder Hey had now implemented procedures to ensure that parents received clearer information.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the information given at the time to gain consent was inadequate," he said.

Ed Bradley, whose daughter Niamh died in 1990, aged 38 days, also claimed to be confused by the pathologist's reference to "international protocol" and the stripping of entire organ systems.

He said: "All I know is that under British law, you cannot remove organs from the body without explicit consent, or on the order of the coroner."

Ian Cohen, a solicitor acting for some of the families involved, said: "I can't have sympathy for the individual but I can understand the view that he is receiving all the criticism.

"There are others who should be culpable for their own actions."

'Scapegoat'

Professor van Velzen was barred from working in the UK after the Alder Hey report accused him of illegally stripping organs from the bodies of thousands of children who died at the Liverpool hospital during his seven-year career there.

He has spent the weekend talking to his lawyers in Holland and told the BBC that he eventually plans to return to Britain to clear his name.

He says he was made a scapegoat even though other people were also involved in the body parts scandal.

"To support and re-establish care for parents in that hospital where it had been absent for years that was not forthcoming - and that wasn't my choice, it was the management's choice."

"The main apology I can offer parents is that I did not resign on their behalf earlier," he added.

UK police are looking to see if any charges should be brought against the pathologist, or anyone else involved in the organ stripping.

Meanwhile, an emergency meeting of surgeons, transplant organisations, trade unions and employers, to be chaired by health secretary Alan Milburn, amid fears that the scandal will put off potential life-saving organ donors.

'Shocking practice'

Britain's Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson described the Alder Hey report as "terrible".

He said Professor van Velzen's practice was shocking, cruel and "had no spark of humanity in it whatsoever".

Professor van Velzen built up a collection of thousands of organs which were not used for research or teaching purposes but were simply stored in a basement.

Many parents were unaware they had buried their children without their hearts, lungs, brains and other organs until the scandal broke, forcing them to conduct second, third and even fourth funerals.

The independent inquiry by Michael Redfern QC found that the professor had lied when applying for the job as senior pathologist at Alder Hey, had falsified records and post-mortem examination reports and deceived bosses.

Professor van Velzen is facing a trial in Canada over charges of illegally possessing children's and animals' organs.

He has also been sacked from the Dutch hospital where he was working in the wake of the Alder Hey report.

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See also:

05 Feb 01 | Health
Van Velzen interview in full
04 Feb 01 | Scotland
Organ retention 'standard practice'
04 Feb 01 | Health
Organ transplant summit called
02 Feb 01 | Health
Organ scandal doctor suspended
02 Feb 01 | Health
Transplants hit by organ scandal
29 Jan 01 | Health
The pathologist
06 Feb 01 | Health
Van Velzen: A 'devastated' man
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