- Dr Ruth Coppard has featured as an expert on Radio 4 show Woman’s Hour
- She now faces being suspended or struck off
A Woman’s Hour psychologist who tried to block a father’s bid for custody of his teenage daughter by falsely stating he had autism has been found guilty of misconduct.
Dr Ruth Coppard told officials involved in family court proceedings that Ian Watson had Asperger’s Syndrome, despite having no evidence to back up the claim.
Coppard, an NHS psychologist based in Sheffield, Yorkshire, has previously featured as an expert on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, the Richard and Judy Show and the WellBeing cable channel.
She made the false claim against Mr Watson two years after treating his 14-year-old daughter for an eating disorder, the Health Professions Council heard.
Coppard admitted she ‘crossed the line’ by taking the side of Mr Watson’s former wife in their custody dispute.
She told the hearing she had been ‘seduced’ into stopping Mr Watson’s custody bid.
She said: ‘I may have been seduced by the mother’s request, but I really believed it was important for people to understand the extent of her difficulties.
‘I clearly listened to the mother in a context where I should have taken advice from somebody else on what to do next.
‘There are a number of things I should have done differently.’
Coppard even contacted the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to make sure they took her opinions into consideration.
She admitted breaching the girl’s patient confidentiality, but insisted she believed it was in the best interests of the teenager, referred to as Service User A during the hearing.
Coppard said: ‘When there’s a child with such severe difficulties I’m not sure I’d be doing my duty if I didn’t try and make the situation more apparent to other people.
‘But I should have kept her informed – I certainly didn’t take full account of the fact she was getting older. I should have talked to her.’
The psychologist was cleared of claiming Mr Watson and his daughter both had Asperger’s Syndrome in a report commissioned by his ex-wife in November 2008, plus a further report for the family GP in March 2009.
However, she was found guilty of making the same claim about Mr Watson to officials involved in family court proceeding.
Giving evidence, Mr Watson said he had attended some treatment sessions for his daughter’s eating disorder with his ex-wife but had never himself been assessed.
He claimed Coppard’s report had misused confidential information which left his daughter feeling ‘cross and emotional’.
‘Coppard entirely disregarded the duty of care she owed to Service User A and her father. She failed to be honest and accurate in her conclusions’
Mr Watson said: ‘I don’t believe at any time in her life she’s going to have the confidence to talk about her feelings with anyone like that again.
‘I also went there in good faith and revealed my thoughts and feelings and I regretted that afterwards.
‘What I said was added to a long list of failings that were mentioned in court as evidence to why I wasn’t fit to have custody of my two children.
‘But I’ve never been referred for treatment for any mental health issues and certainly not anything on the autistic spectrum.’
The HPC panel ruled that six out of seven allegations against Coppard were found to be true, and that her fitness to practice was impaired by her misconduct.
Panel chair Jacki Pearce said: ‘Mrs Coppard accepted she acted inappropriately by contacting CAFCASS and this was poor professional judgement on her part.
‘Mrs Coppard conducted herself in a manner that fell short of a registered psychologist.
‘She entirely disregarded the duty of care she owed to Service User A and her father. She failed to be honest and accurate in her conclusions.
‘The panel remains concerned as to the extent of the insight she has displayed into the gravity of her misconduct.’
Coppard faces being suspended or struck off when the panel issues its sanction.