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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 16:10 GMT
Dental team cleared over girl's death
Karla Selley
Karla Selley died
A dentist and an anaesthetist have been cleared of the manslaughter of a five-year-old girl who died after routine dental work.

Karla Selley died in 1999 after being given general anaesthetic to extract a baby tooth at the Towngate Dental Surgery in Leyland, Lancashire.

However, Preston Crown Court heard a Home Office pathologist concede that he had made a "mistake" by ruling out a heart defect which may, in fact, have killed Karla.

In light of that, the judge directed a jury to find dentist Michael Lane and an anaesthetist Dr George Vanner not guilty.

Mr Lane was fined 3,000 for breaching health and safety regulations.


The prosecution had alleged that Karla choked to death on blood, mucus and debris after a series of errors by the two men.

Howard Bentham QC described how Karla had choked and changed colour as she came round from the anaesthetic.

He said resuscitation attempts by Lane and Vanner had been described by one witness as "hopeless".

The youngster was then taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead.

However, Home Office pathologist Dr Alun Williams, giving evidence on the eighth day of the trial, said under cross-examination that he had made a "mistake" in not realising the significance of a heart abnormality from which Karla suffered.

He agreed the defect could have been responsible for her death.

Following an adjournment Mr Bentham said that in light of the testimony he could no longer ask the jury to be sure Karla died from an obstruction of her airways.

He told jurors: "There has been a fundamental change in relation to the evidence. When I opened the case to you I invited you on the basis of Dr Williams' evidence to be able to say you were sure that death in this case was due to an obstruction of the airways and the anomalous coronary artery did not play a part in her death.

"You heard just before Dr Williams make concession that the coronary artery could have been the cause of death in those circumstances, I am no longer able to invite you to be able to be sure of the basis of my case."

Guilty to charges

The jury was then told Lane had pleaded guilty in November of last year to a second charge of failing to discharge his statutory duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The charges relate to the string of errors during the operation to remove Karla's tooth which the prosecution had outlined during the case.

The court heard he had not notified Chorley Hospital that Karla was to have a general anaesthetic.

Adrenaline was not present in the surgery and a fourth person was not in the room to act as a dedicated anaesthetic assistant against regulations.

In addition there was no oxygen monitor.

Nicola Davies, QC, defending Lane, who qualified as a dentist in 1980, said he had pleaded guilty on the grounds that none of the Health and Safety breaches contributed to the death of Karla.

She said that his conviction automatically meant he would be referred to the General Dental Council.

Ms Davies added that Lane, who is married with three children, was "deeply, deeply concerned by the events which led to the death of Karla Selley".

Fining him, the judge said: "The failings that you have pleaded guilty to vary in their seriousness but I sentence you on the basis that none of them individually, or collectively caused the sad death of that little girl.

"I accept you're full of remorse for what happened, I accept you had the matter hanging over your head for a long time and you will continue in you professional life in a state of uncertainty.

"But you failed as a professional man to discharge your duties in these particular ways and that is a serious matter."

Karla's mother Tracy Marsh cried in the public gallery when the verdict was read out but was too upset to comment after the case.

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11 Aug 99 | Health
Girl, 5, dies at dentist
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