Revealed: Sex abuse charges for top child doctor
Exclusive: Claims against Great Ormond Street specialist to be heard this weekend
Jeremy Laurance is 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.
Saturday 08 September 2012
The former Great Ormond Street heart specialist facing allegations of sexually abusing young boys in Kenya told one of his victims that his behaviour was "normal and acceptable in Europe", according to the charges levelled against him at a medical tribunal.
Philipp Bonhoeffer, who was head of cardiology at the children's hospital until 2009 and is internationally renowned as a pioneer of new treatments, is alleged to have earlier admitted to the parents of another victim that he had paedophile tendencies which he could do nothing about and he hoped the children in Kenya "would never speak of what had happened to them".
The allegations are contained in the list of charges published by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service which is to hold a hearing this weekend into Professor Bonhoeffer's fitness to practise. They include details of six children and young adults with whom he is said to have had sexual contact, shared a bed or touched inappropriately, when they were under-age or without their consent. If found guilty, he could be struck off the medical register. Professor Bonhoeffer, who strongly denies the allegations, is not attending the hearing in Manchester and is not represented. He withdrew from the case last May, after telling the General Medical Council through his lawyers that he intended "to take no further part" in the proceedings. He has been suspended from the medical register and banned from practising pending the outcome of the case.
The charges relate to the period from 1995 to 2008, during which Professor Bonhoeffer, now aged 50, made frequent trips to Kenya doing charitable work. From 2005 he travelled with the medical charity Chain of Hope, founded by heart transplant pioneer Sir Magdi Yacoub, which 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 and paid for their education.
At 3pm on 31 August 2008, Professor Bonhoeffer was found in a flat at the Mater Hospital in Nairobi by Witness Z, a representative of the Chain of Hope due to give evidence at the hearing, who was making an unannounced visit accompanied by a nurse.
According to the charges, Professor Bonhoeffer was "in a bedroom with Kenyan male children and young male adults" to whom he had provided sponsorship and gifts. He "came out of the bedroom and to the door of the flat in a state of sexual arousal", the charges state. Photographs taken on the same day are alleged to have been found on his camera showing him next to a boy "bare chested and lying on a bed" which were "inappropriate" and "sexually motivated".
More than a decade earlier, Professor Bonhoeffer, an accomplished musician, apparently gave violin lessons to the child of a couple whose home he regularly visited while he was working in Paris. The charges allege he sometimes shared a room with the boy and on one occasion when the boy was aged 10 he went into his room while he was apparently sleeping and "caressed his whole body including his penis".
When confronted by the boy's parents he allegedly "admitted that he had a paedophile tendency" but said there was "nothing he could do about it" and that his "career would be affected" if they went to the police.
He had a long relationship with Witness A, now in his late 20s, which began in 1995 when A was 13, according to the charges, which state that during an overnight stay at a camp in Marsabit District, Kenya, Professor Bonhoeffer "placed his hand inside [the boy's] lower clothing" and "touched his genital area". He told the boy he was a doctor and was "doing this to find his femoral vein". During the same trip he is supposed to have told A he would make sure he went to high school.
He is alleged to have invited A to stay with him at the flat in the Mater Hospital in Nairobi, provided for him on his visits, and shared a bed with him. On the first night, he put his arm around him and "touched A's buttock's with his erect penis", but without his consent, according to the charges.
It was on that occasion that he is alleged to have told A that his behaviour was considered normal in Europe, warned him not to tell anyone what had happened and promised to help him through medical school. During another stay at the Mater Hospital flat in 2001, when A was 19, Professor Bonhoeffer performed fellatio on him, without his consent, it is claimed.
When the allegations first emerged, the Metropolitan Police travelled to Kenya in 2008 to investigate and interviewed A among other witnesses but no prosecution was brought. UK residents can be prosecuted for crimes against children abroad but only for those committed after May 2004.
In March 2009, Professor Bonhoeffer contacted A and asked him to withdraw the information he had given to the police, according to the charges. The following month he stopped seeing patients at Great Ormond Street Hospital, but his employment continued until 24 May 2010.
The hearing continues.
Profile: An innovator devoted to charity work
Philipp Bonhoeffer was committed to medicine and to helping children in the developing world. He once said he had made so many charity missions to Kenya that he had acquired a large family of children there.
He was generous with his support, both medical and financial. The parents were grateful, telling him they were, in effect, his children.
Although he has denied the allegations against him, they cast a long shadow over what should have been a cause for pride and satisfaction. They have also brought the career of a brilliant specialist with an international reputation to a sudden halt.
Professor Bonhoeffer grew up in Germany, qualified in medicine in Italy in 1989, and he invented a catheter for dilating the heart valves in rheumatic heart disease which is now used in 25 countries. In 2000, he successfully performed the world's first heart valve replacement through a catheter inserted in the groin.
In 2001 he moved to Great Ormond Street as a consultant, becoming head of cardiology in 2002. Yet he nearly chose music instead of medicine. He is an accomplished violin player who has performed with professionals.
When Magdi Yacoub – the doctor who performed the world's first successful heart transplant in 1980 – founded the charity Chain of Hope in 1995, Professor Bonhoeffer was an obvious choice to become its chair. The charity provides help to children with heart problems overseas, by bringing them to Britain for operations unavailable in their home countries, or flying British surgeons out to provide expertise.
Professor Bonhoeffer began visiting Kenya with the charity from 2005 until he was allegedly discovered in a flat in Nairobi with a number of boys and young men in 2008.
Professor Boenhoeffer is the great nephew of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who was a leading member of the German resistance until he was imprisoned and executed in 1945. Dietrich Bonhoeffer promulgated the doctrine that Christians should "act within the world, not retreat from it". That his great-nephew now stands accused of sexually abusing young boys is a personal and professional tragedy.
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