Murdered Doctor Championed Teen Refugees
A doctor murdered with his wife in their North London home this week was a leading authority on the ageing process of adolescents - of crucial importance to young refugees who the Home Office sought to prove were adults masquerading as teenagers.
As a volunteer doctor with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, retired paediatrician Dr Derek Robinson was asked to provide expert evidence in a number of such cases.
To the young refugees in question, independent evidence of the fact that they could be under 18 meant they could remain in Britain, receiving local council support, at least until they reached adulthood.
In some cases it meant an immediate release from detention, where they had been placed by immigration officials who believed that they were really young adults lying about their age.
Dr Robinson held that it was impossible to access a teenager's precise age without regular measuring developments such as bone growth over a protracted period At the Medical Foundation he established criteria for even attempting a degree of accuracy where no such monitoring had been possible.
These included a full medical examination of each case, and then a re-examination six months later to see how the body had changed. The way in which teeth developed could be revealing, as could the development of secondary sexual characteristics such as pubic hair. The examination would be accompanied by detailed questioning of the young person about their family history, schooling and peer group.
A Royal College of Paediatricians study of the subject to which Dr Robinson contributed eventually issued guidelines to doctors saying that there was no scientific way in which to establish a teenager's precise age within two years either side of the correct age.
Sheila Melzak, principal community child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Medical Foundation said yesterday: "Dr Robinson's work was of crucial importance to a number of youngsters - it quite literally meant the difference between freedom, and being locked up on an immigration officer's whim.
"He was quite clear about the complexities of age assessment, saying anything remotely accurate could not be rushed, but had to be done over a period of time. He was also extremely good at dealing with other youngsters who had been tortured, or had witnessed it.
"He had a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach and was very alert to the mental state of those he examined, and good spotting the particularly vulnerable, who might need psychotherapeutic help."
Another former Medical Foundation paediatrician Dr Pat Wallace said: "I had known him since we were junior doctors together. He was quiet and self-effacing, but a very kind - that came through in his work."
Malcolm Smart, director of the Medical Foundation, said: "We deeply regret the murder of Dr Robinson and his wife and our thoughts are with his family. He was a very committed man who will be badly missed."