Heart doctor withdraws from disciplinary sex abuse hearing
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Monday 23 July 2012
The former head of cardiology at Great Ormond Street children's hospital who has been accused of sexually abusing young boys has withdrawn from a disciplinary hearing brought against him by the General Medical Council (GMC), more than a year after he tried to halt it.
As first revealed by The Independent, Philipp Bonhoeffer, 50, internationally renowned for his work as a children's heart specialist, is alleged to have committed the abuse on visits to Kenya with the medical charity Chain of Hope. He strongly denies the allegations.
Last year, Professor Bonhoeffer won an appeal against the GMC nine months after it had opened its case against him on the grounds that its plan to rely on hearsay evidence from a key witness, Witness A, would deny him the right to a fair trial.
But now that the GMC has reopened the case and arranged for the witness to give evidence in person and be available for cross-examination via videolink at a new hearing due to begin on 3 September, Professor Bonhoeffer has broken off all contact.
He has failed to respond to letters from the GMC sent to his registered address in Camden, north London, or to emails, phone calls and texts. Inquiries by the GMC to neighbours have also drawn a blank. His lawyers, RadcliffesLeBrasseur, told the GMC on 3 May that Professor Bonhoeffer "intends to take no further part" in the proceedings, will not attend the hearings and will not be represented.
Chain of Hope, whose founder and president is Sir Magdi Yacoub, the heart transplant pioneer, provides treatment to children with heart problems in the developing world. Professor Bonhoeffer chaired its medical board and sponsored a number of boys and youths in Kenya.
The GMC alleges that Professor Bonhoeffer "abused his position of trust when he behaved in a way which was sexually motivated, inappropriate, and misleading towards several boys under 16", and that he "provided gifts and financial support to other children and young adults and arranged for them to stay with him".
He is also alleged to have contacted Witness A and tried to persuade him to withdraw the allegations.
When the allegations first emerged, the Metropolitan Police travelled to Kenya in 2008 to investigate but no prosecution was brought. UK residents can be prosecuted for crimes against children abroad but only for those committed after May 2004.
Professor Bonhoeffer stopped seeing patients at Great Ormond Street in April 2009 and the case against him was opened by the GMC in October 2010. He was suspended from the medical register pending its outcome because of the seriousness of the allegations against him and the fact that his work as a paediatric specialist gave him access to children.
In June 2011, the case was halted after Professor Bonhoeffer won an appeal against the GMC's panel's decision not to call Witness A – a Kenyan man in his late twenties who was in his early teens when the alleged abuse took place – but to rely on transcripts of police interviews with him and mobile calls and texts instead.
There were fears that Witness A would be in danger if he were identified and gave evidence in person to the panel, because of homophobia in his own country. The Metropolitan Police who investigated the case advised the GMC that it would not be safe to call him.
But two judges quashed the panel's decision to proceed on the basis of hearsay evidence, on the grounds that it would breach the professor's right to a fair trial if Witness A could not be cross-examined.
With the case set to reopen before a new panel on 3 September, Professor Bonhoeffer has relinquished his right to cross-examine the witness and will have no legal representation, unless he changes his mind. Witness A will appear via videolink but will remain anonymous. Four other boys referred to in Witness A's statement will also remain anonymous.
Professor Bonhoeffer is a great-nephew of the renowned theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a pioneer of new treatments for heart conditions. He performed the world's first heart-valve transplant conducted via a catheter inserted in the groin in France in 2000.
If found guilty, he faces being struck off the medical register.
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