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Obituary: Petronella Clarke

Petronella Cornelia Leighton was born in 1938 to a Dutch mother and English father. Petronella spent time in Surrey during the Blitz after the insurance company where her father worked was bombed. She married Peter Clarke in 1976 and had two children.

After training as a doctor at Liverpool University, Dr Petronella Clarke specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology, passing the membership of the RCOG in 1968. She gained experience from posts in Liverpool, Manchester and London, including one year in Pathology.

In 1970, Dr Clarke went to work in Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda for two years through the government's Overseas Aid Scheme. During this time she gained unrivalled experience of obstetrics and gynaecology in a developing country. She devoted her time to training local doctors.

On returning to Britain, she undertook epidemiological research for one year in the Department of the Regius Professor of Medicine, Professor Sir Richard Doll. This was followed by six years at Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School during which time she completed a London University Doctorate of Medicine on screening pregnant women for spina bifida babies. Throughout she maintained a strong interest in research and published many papers from work done at Oxford and St Bartholomew's.

From 1979 to 1998, Dr Clarke worked as a Senior Medical Officer at the Department of Health where she drafted official reports for the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy; folic acid and the prevention of neural tube defects; infant feeding; nutritional assessment of infant formulas; weaning; nutrition for the elderly; and nutrition and bone health. Dr Clarke also commissioned three periodic national studies on Infant Feeding (1985, 1990, 1995) and a special study of the feeding of Asian infants in England.

In retirement, from 1998, until she suffered a stroke in 2005, Dr Clarke worked as a volunteer examining doctor at the Medical Foundation for the care of Victims of Torture. During her seven years at the Medical Foundation, she wrote scores of detailed medico-legal reports. She committed herself to changing received UK medical and legal opinion to accept that politically motivated rape was both torture and a criminal act. Even the hardest of immigration judges, were transfixed by Dr Clarke's lectures and discussion of female anatomy and the after-effects of physical and psychological torture.

Dr Clarke also championed other causes and was the local Christian aid coordinator in Wood Green. She was active in her faith, serving 10 years as an elected member to the General Synod of the Church of England.

Dr Clarke leaves her husband, Peter, and two children, Julia and Thomas.