Bonhoeffer QC: 'unlawful' to admit hearsay evidence
A key witness in a case involving allegations of child abuse against a celebrated children’s doctor is prepared to fly to London to give evidence at a General Medical Council hearing, a court heard today.
But a Fitness to Practice panel of the GMC had declined the witnesses offer, on the grounds that he would put himself and his family at risk in the country where he lived if it emerged he had been inolved in homosexual acts.
In doing so the panel had “irrationally” and “unlawfully” decided to rely on hearsay evidence against Profesor Philipp Bonhoeffer, former head of cardiology at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, based on transcripts of conversations with the witness, text messages and interviews with police, which would violate his right to a fair hearing, the court heard.
Professor Bonhoeffer is one of the world’s leading paediatric cardiologists who made frequent visits to Kenya to operate on children voluntary.
Kieran Coonan QC for Professor Bonhoeffer said: “The allegations are of sexual misconduct and they are strongly denied. Clearly the case is of the greatest importance and seriousness for all concerned, and may have significant consequences for the prosecution of future cases before the GMC.”
Appearing before two judges, Mr Coonan asked the High Court to overturn the decision of the Fitness to Practise panel to admit hearsay evidence against Professor Bonhoeffer. He said the allegations arose from the doctor’s work in Kenya “and his association over a considerable period of time with a number of young males who are nationals of Kenya - some not so young now”.
The cardiologist, who lives in Camden, north London, “funded their education, their accommodation and living expenses”.
The key witness, Witness A, was the sole witness to the majority of the allegations aganst the doctor. He was not supported by other winesses who, like him, were in receipt of financial help from Professor Bonhoeffer. Now in his late 20s he was "ready and willing and able" to come to London to give evidence, said Mr Coonan.
The GMC had intitially offered to pay for him, his wife and child to to travel to the UK but it withdrew the offer following advice from the police which suggested he might be at “significant risk of harm” both because of an intolerant attitude to homosexuality in Kenya, where the practice is illegal, and because others loyal to the doctor might take revenge against him.
The panel then fell into error by irrationally deciding that hearsay evidence containing his allegations, which would not have been admissible in criminal proceedings, could nevertheless be admitted under GMC rules, despite the potentially devastating consequences for Professor Bonhoeffer. It was crucial that Witness A was called to give live evidence so that he could be cross-examined and his veracity tested.
The GMC had been planning to rely in part on video and audio recordings of interviews with Witness A by detectives from Scotland Yard made in a hotel in Nairobi, which would have been “highly relevant to the question of [Witness A’s] demeanour,” Mr Coonan said. But the tapes had been lost by the police. Judgement in the case was deferred to a later date.
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