Tribute by Rt Hon Lord Justice Thorpe

In my view Professor Kolvin, of all the many child and adolescent psychiatrists who have contributed to the protection of children through the family justice system, has made the outstanding contribution.  For many years he took on difficult cases during his Newcastle appointment and subsequently after his move to London.  Almost invariably his recommendation laid the foundation for the judge’s order.  The quality of his analysis and conclusion derived not just from his outstanding intellect but from his humanity and his profound understanding of fellow human beings.  This quality led him invariably to go to the family rather than to expect the family to come to him.  From these home visits his perceptions and his intuition led to an unerring perception of the real issue that determined the outcome.  As his reputation grew he frequently became the ultimate referral in those most difficult cases that produce conflict of expert opinion.

Quite apart from his forensic contribution Professor Kolvin was the dominant expert at the Cleveland Inquiry.  The speed at which the crisis developed and its gigantic scale forced the government to mount a public enquiry with almost no preparation.  As counsel to the enquiry I was instructed about two weeks before its commencement and found myself making an opening speech with only the barest knowledge of either the history or the ground that lay ahead.  Preliminary approaches to experts in the fields of child psychiatry and paediatrics revealed passionate disputes particularly on the diagnosis of anal abuse.  Professor Kolvin’s achievement was to negotiate a statement of opinion and good practice that was both scientifically valid and acceptable to the leading protagonists in the professional debate in both child psychiatry and paediatrics.  The arrival of this consensus at a relatively early stage in the inquiry introduced order out of what might otherwise has been something approaching chaos.  It enabled me to ask each expert whether he agreed with Professor Kolvin’s statement and, if not, to explain and justify disagreement.  I am convinced that no one else could have taken the initiative and brought it to a successful conclusion. Only Professor Kolvin’s eminence and the universal respect in which he was held made it possible.