Now, there cannot be much call for Dixieland jazz at pre-committal rallies, but then this was no normal event. Dr David Moor - a local GP who is known for his bow ties, and whose views are as outspoken as his dress is flamboyant - was appearing on the charge that he murdered a patient in July 1997. About 150 people came to the rally and when Dr Moor walked up to the court, he was greeted like the local hero and celebrity that he already is from his years as a newspaper columnist and radio host. Also on hand were members of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. They had not just dropped in from London by chance. Could it be that Newcastle is about to get its very own Dr Death?
The committal was the briefest of events, taking about as long as a Stompers improvisation. About 80 sat in the public gallery in courtroom No 2, which is dominated by a large and Draconian brass cage. The plea hearing was set for 19 October, and Dr Moor was freed on bail.
The trial was to be the first euthanasia/ murder trial in England that anyone can remember. America has Jack Kevorkian with his death machine; Australia has Philip Nitschke with his computer programme that provides a step-by-step guide to DIY death. But so far England has mostly had a lot of what the Voluntary Euthanasia Society calls "hypocrisy". No one knows how many deaths each year are caused by disease, or by drugs given to ease pain. Nor do we know how many doctors give the final dosage of drugs with the intention of easing pain (legal) or hastening death (illegal). Most doctors admit that mercy killings are not uncommon. But it is best, they say, to look the other way.
Anyone who follows the subject knows that euthanasia can attract an eccentric sort of person. At yesterday's committal, for instance, there was a man named Don Aston who has made a hobby out of studying morphine dosages. "We would have liked to hear some evidence, I think. At least the prosecution," he told the man from the Crown Prosecution Service, who did not acknowledge that he was being talked to. Dr Kevorkian is perhaps the classic outsider and oddball. He may be a hero in Michigan, but he is also a loner who is fascinated by death, wants to found a body parts clinic, buys his clothes from charity shops, and once wrote a diet book in limericks, which he called Slimericks. Dr Moor is not in that category, but, with his outspoken ways (he even admitted in the local press to once having had an alcohol problem), he fits the mould.
His support group does, too. The headquarters for the Friends of Dr Moor is in what used to be Fiona McAndrew's dining room and, for my visit at least, the atmosphere is chaotic. The phone rings constantly, and Fiona's English sheepdog Belle charges about barking.
I look round. The yellow walls are full of well-wishers' cards. What, I ask, happened to the dining-room table? "Oh, I gave that away," says Fiona distractedly. Fiona's mum and daughter are on hand, as are four other Friends. Most of us are drinking tea except for Lizzie, an artist who describes herself as a post-transsexual. She has just wobbled down to the off-licence on her high heels for a bottle of Merrydown cider.
Everyone in the room is a great fan of Dr Moor, whose surgery was just down the road at No 6 Wingrove Road. None of them could believe it when their doctor - an outspoken proponent of euthanasia, as well as of many other causes - was found to be under investigation regarding the death of one of his patients, an 85-year-old former ambulance man named George Liddell.
Dr Dave's problems began on a Sunday in July 1997. On that day the chairman of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Dr Michael Irwin, was featured in The Sunday Times saying that during his career he had helped some 50 people to die. The Newcastle media then rang up their local media-friendly doctor, Dr Dave, and asked him the same question. The police heard the comments and launched an investigation. It took a year. This took its toll, and, at 51, Dr Moor decided to retire. Three months ago he was charged with murder.
The moment Fiona heard, she vowed to clear his name. Since then she has devoted her life to the Friends. Her first public meeting attracted 200 people, and every Saturday she has a stand at the market. Last week she gathered 1,600 signatures. The T-shirts seem popular; so do the bumper stickers. She admits to liking the buzz. This week she has been working every day, sometimes to 11pm. "But he deserves it," she says. "He is a good man."
The Friends are not fair-weather ones but then, they say, neither is Dr Moor. After all, Fiona says, didn't he stand by her when the press was in full rottweiler mode over the fact that she had had what her mother calls her "boob job" on the NHS? Lizzie, who also wants such an operation, nods. Other Friends have less exciting stories, though ones that, given the nature of our times and how busy most doctors are, perhaps tell the real story. It seems that Dr Moor really listened to them when they went to his surgery with problems.
"It was no five-minute conversation," says 67-year-old George Gee, a retired electrician whose white hair is tied in a tiny ponytail. Another patient, Joan Armstrong, tells of the way Dr Moor helped out with her mother, who suffers with arthritis. One morning at 6am her mother had a bad fall, and Dr Moor came out. She has never forgotten it."You just don't get the same service from others," she says softly.
I say that reporting restrictions mean we cannot discuss the case but they say they don't want to anyway.
"To tell you the truth, at the moment my main priority is not euthanasia, it is Dr Moor," Fiona says.
He is, after all, the man who helped Fiona get her breast implants. The pounds 2,300 operation was done on the NHS. The local press heard about it and soon Fiona had appeared in the national papers too. She whips out a book of cuttings. "See? Look at this! Isn't it awful?" The headlines are certainly not caring or sharing. "What a Boob!" and "Porn Star Ambition" are among the worst. Richard Littlejohn did not approve either, surprise, surprise.
The Sun asked her to do page three ("and I did, too") but her modelling career soon ended. However, this didn't bother her too much, as she found herself rather enjoying her new career as a campaigner for plastic surgery on the NHS. She set up a helpline from her front room and was soon talking to other women who, like herself, saw plastic surgery as a way to raise their self-esteem. The campaign grew, and Dr Moor was right beside her, appearing with her on radio and television shows, including Kilroy. "We did that show four or five times," says Fiona. "I believed what I was doing with Dr Moor. We were fighting for women with low self-esteem who wanted cosmetic surgery."
Lizzie has also appeared with Dr Moor on the show. "Oh yes, poor Kilroy! He's wearing as much make-up as I am!" she says from her precarious perch on the arm of a comfy chair. Fiona's mum, Joan, is in the chair and when Lizzie swears, Joan shakes her head. "I don't like four-letter words," she says.
"Oh, like love?" asks Lizzie. She is an artist who, until recently, lectured at Northumbria University. She says that she would have gone insane if she had remained a man. Lizzie met Fiona when they were out walking their dogs, and soon got to talking about the breast implant issue. So when Lizzie was asked to defend her NHS sex change on Kilroy, she asked Dr Moor and Fiona to go with her. "I can never thank him enough for going down and doing that," says Lizzie. As her bit for the Friends, she has done a pencil sketch of Dr Moor as an angel. It is called "Angel of Mercy" and was bought by a supporter for pounds 400.
The Friends are in for the long haul. Fiona is already talking about Christmas bazaar fundraisers. They have just had a pounds 1,000 donation from a supporter in Birmingham and plan to buy a computer and set up a database. The conversation swings between the philosophical and the mundane. A heated discussion about euthanasia emerges, with everyone trying to talk above Belle's barking. Fiona's 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, joins us and I wonder how many campaign groups manage to get three generations in one room. But then this is the group that booked the Stompers.
I wonder if the Stompers have checked their diary for October? I hear there's a hot court date on the 19th.Reuse content