UK – Woman’s hour psychologist’s autism evidence ‘used as weapon’ in divorce case

Woman's hour psychologist's autism evidence 'used as weapon' in divorce case

Dr Ruth Coppard Photo: CENTRAL

A child psychologist who has appeared on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour tried to stop a father winning custody of his teenage daughter by claiming they both had a form of autism, a hearing was told.

Dr Ruth Coppard stated Ian Watson and his 14-year-old daughter had Asperger’s Syndrome in a report commissioned by his ex-wife.

The document was ‘used as a weapon’ to undermine evidence given by the daughter at her parents’ divorce proceedings in November 2008, the Health Professions Council heard.

It also allegedly portrayed Mr Watson as a bad influence who supported his daughter’s ‘withdrawal from everyday activities and erratic bedtimes.’

Dr Coppard, an NHS psychologist based in Sheffield, Yorks, has previously appeared as an expert on the Richard and Judy Show, Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and the WellBeing cable channel.

She had treated the girl, referred to as Service User A, for an eating disorder two years earlier, but had not diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome.

Giving evidence, Mr Watson said he had attended some treatment sessions with his ex-wife and daughter but was never formally assessed.

He told the panel Dr Coppard’s report had misused confidential information and left his daughter ‘cross and emotional.’

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.’

Mr Watson said his daughter had been ‘distressed’ by the diagnosis and concerned her friends at school would find out.

In the two years since the teenager had seen Dr Coppard for treatment, she had recovered from many of her problems and become more outgoing, he said.

She had been referred to a psychologist mid-way through primary school because of problems she had eating certain foods.

Sarah Harris, for the HPC, said Dr Coppard had begun to ‘identify’ with Service User A’s mother in the course of her treatment.

She added: ‘The registrant appears to have become embroiled in a dispute between the parents, taking the part of the mother.

‘She was acting for the mother to support her residency application for the child, rather than in the best interests of the child.’

Dr Coppard went on to repeat the same claims about Service User A and her father in a second report for the family GP, the panel heard.

She also called the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to make sure they took her views into consideration.

The psychologist is charged with making out-of-date observations and drawing inappropriate conclusions about Service User A, and disclosing confidential information about her.

She is also accused of making inappropriate observations about Mr Watson and incorrectly diagnosing him with Asperger’s Syndrome, and passing on her incorrect findings to CAFCASS.

She did not enter pleas to any of the allegations.

The hearing continues.

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