The drink rules that would empty Britain's boardrooms

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The Independent Online
The criteria used by a company doctor to brand a television executive a heavy drinker, killing a highly paid job offer, would deplete the boardrooms of British and US companies, a professor told the High Court yesterday.

Professor Neil McIntyre, of London's Royal Free Hospital, was giving evidence on the second day of a civil action brought by executive Peter Baker against Dr Georges Kaye.

In 1991, Mr Baker, who now runs his own television distribution company, was on the verge of taking up the pounds 45,000 post of sales director for the American network NBC in Europe when he was examined by Dr Kaye. Dr Kaye's report described Mr Baker, now 53, as "clinically corpulent" and a "regular heavy drinker". The job offer was withdrawn. Dr Kaye is being sued by Mr Baker for compensation.

During Dr Kaye's assessment, Mr Baker revealed he drank about 35 units of alcohol a week - equal to 17.5 pints of beer and seven units above the Government's recommended limit.

In court on Monday, Mr Baker said that during a "bit of a spree" in Monte Carlo the week before his medical examination he had been celebrating his new job and drinking around a bottle of wine each day.

In court yesterday, Dr Brian Gazzard, a consultant physician at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, described asking people for their own alcohol intake as "a guessing game".

Dr Kaye told the judge, Robert Owen, QC, that he had not solely relied on Mr Baker's estimate. During his examination he said Mr Baker had a "lack of eye contact", poor deportment and demeanour, and there was a general "lack of forthcomingness". He believed Mr Baker was underestimating his alcohol intake.

In 1991, expecting to move to the post at GE Technical Services (part of NBC), Mr Baker quit a pounds 40,000 job at Guild TV.

Dr Michael Rehmar, the former medical director of GE, told the court that in recent years "alcohol at lunch began to be frowned upon". "People who could not make the change left the company," he said. He added that alcohol "interfered" with decisions and could have cost the company "hundreds of millions of dollars."

Dr Kaye's examination had involved blood and liver tests, the court was told. But Dr Anne Cockroft, a consultant and senior lecturer in occupational medicine at the Royal Free, said it was "not good medicine" to rely on blood tests of liver function as an indication of alcohol abuse. She said Mr Baker's sickness and absentee records should have been examined.

Professor McIntyre was also questioned on Dr Kaye's methodology. He described the descriptions of Mr Baker as "looking edgy" and being "clinically corpulent" as "rather pointless".

On Mr Baker's admission of consuming 35 units of alcohol a week, Professor McIntyre said: "I would have thought that wouldn't alarm anyone."

Answering questions from Mr Baker's counsel, John Bowers, the professor said: "The boardrooms of British and American companies would be depleted" if similar judgements on the same level of alcohol intake were applied".

The hearing continues.

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