An eminent member of the General Medical Council (GMC) was yesterday found guilty of serious professional misconduct for failing to disclose a conflict of interest in dealing with acase of medical malpractice.

James Owen Drife, 58, professor of obstetrics at the University of Leeds, escaped being struck off the medical register but had conditions imposed on his registration for dismissing a complaint made to the GMC about a colleague, Richard Neale, without telling the council that he knew Mr Neale.

He was also found guilty of earlier having provided a misleading reference for Mr Neale, but was cleared of a second charge relating to another reference. Richard Neale, a consultant gynaecologist at the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton, north Yorkshire, was struck off the UK medical register on 23 August 2000 after being found guilty of botching operations on 11 women.

Professor Drife resigned from the council of the GMC after the panel found the case against him proved and banned him from acting as a case examiner for the GMC and from providing references for professional colleagues for three years. The case is the first in which the council has disciplined one of its own members.

Sheila Wright Hogeland, 54, who was injured during surgery by Mr Neale, said: "It is deplorable that a distinguished member of the medical profession who worked for the GMC was part of the cover up. It is a huge can of worms."