23 March, 2007

Honorary Presidential Address - Summary of the meeting by Dr MacIntyre


The Society was addressed by its Honorary President, Dr John Clark. He reflected on a career in forensic medicine in and beyond Glasgow starting with a look at the image of the forensic pathologist and then making a series of observations arising from work elsewhere and comparison with Glasgow.

The media focus on high profile cases and television image of drama belie the more mundane causes of sudden or unexplained death - coronary disease, alcohol and drugs, suicide rather than homicide. It remains a busy job with around 2,000 post mortems a year.

He described work providing a forensic service to the Falkland Islands where sudden deaths tended to occur in a younger group – often related to the fishing industry. He followed this up with reflection on the epidemiology of sudden death under the age of 30 with almost half involving the illicit use of drugs.

Experience in Korea had included contact with an unusual case of neonaticide – the death of newborn either by immediate neglect or active killing. This unfortunate area of work involved the important distinction between a stillborn baby and live birth.

Dr Clark had played a substantial role in forensic work following the Balkan conflict – particular in relation to the massacre at Srebrenica. After describing some of the background to this episode he described some of the process of identification and establishing precise cause of death which could lead to prosecution in this ongoing criminal investigation. One unusual set of findings was explained by the use of captive bolt devices, general available in farming communities, as a weapon of injury and perhaps murder. There had been one such case in Glasgow.

Finally he compared experiences of forensic investigation in Yorkshire with Glasgow. His striking observation had been the extent which alcohol is involved in episodes in Glasgow - marked intoxication in 58% of those killed in fires for example (15% in Yorkshire). This was a personal observation but a consistent one highlighting the role of alcohol abuse in the work in which he is involved.

Following a period of discussion Dr Weetch thanked Dr Clark for his address. The meeting was brought to a close with intimation of the Annual General Meeting in April by Mr Ritchie.

A recording of the meeting is available to members on request from Dr J Oates.