Patients in court plea over errors inquiry

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The Independent Online

Women who suffered at the hands of two disgraced doctors asked the High Court yesterday to allow them access to an independent inquiry set up to investigate their complaints.

Lawyers for more than 100 women patients challenged the decision by the Secretary of State for Health to bar the public from attending the hearings into the activities of Clifford Ayling, a former GP, and Richard Neale, a former surgeon.

Ayling carried out serious sexual assaults on women for many years despite complaints and concerns dating back to the mid-1980s. Mr Neale, a gynaecologist, was accused of bungling a string of operations over nearly 15 years in Britain, where he was allowed to practise despite having been struck off in Canada. He was found guilty of serious professional misconduct last year.

Two former patients – Patricia Howard, from Ashford in Kent, and Sheila Wright-Hogeland, from Kirkbymoorside in North Yorkshire – have both waived their right to anonymity to bring the two lead cases. Their lawyers argue that the Health Secretary's refusal to open the proposed hearings to full public scrutiny is "irrational" and in breach of human rights laws.

Mr Justice Scott Baker was told the refusals contravened the patients' rights to impart and receive accurate information at the inquiry, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Edward Faulks QC, for the women, said Ayling, 70, who practised in Folkestone, Kent, was found guilty of 13 counts of indecent assault, involving 10 women, in December 2000 and jailed for four years. The assaults occurred during intimate examinations at his practice between 1991 and 1998.

Ms Howard, 23, said she was only 16 when she was assaulted by Ayling during an unnecessary sexually motivated breast examination. She was left severely traumatised by her experience.

Ayling was struck off the medical register in July 2001 after the General Medical Council's professional conduct committee said his actions constituted "criminal indecency of a particularly wicked kind".

With nearly 50 of the jailed GP's other alleged victims backing her application for judicial review, Ms Howard is challenging the Government's decision not to allow the press and public to attend hearings of the forthcoming independent investigation to be chaired by Dame Yvonne Moores.

Most of the incidents involving Mr Neale occurred at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, although he also worked in Leicester and at the private Portland Hospital in London. He was barred from practising by the General Medical Council in July 2000.

Among his patients was Mrs Wright-Hogeland, who is unable to have children because of Mr Neale's treatment.

The hearing continues.