Baby P doctor wins fresh chance over hearing

A doctor accused of failing to spot that Baby P had a broken back days before his death today won a crucial High Court battle in her bid to avoid a disciplinary hearing.

A judge granted consultant paediatrician Dr Sabah Al-Zayyat a new opportunity to apply for "voluntary erasure" from the medical register on health grounds.

If she is successful, she would not have to appear at any disciplinary hearing.

The GMC says granting the 54-year-old doctor's request would mean derailing the high-profile public misconduct investigation into her care of Baby P which is already under way.

But Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in London, ruled that a decision of a General Medical Council fitness to practise panel to reject her request for erasure was "perverse" and must be quashed.

The judge ruled there was "no sufficient evidential basis" for the panel's decision and ordered that her case be reconsidered by a fresh panel.

The judge said the panel's decision was "in a legal sense perverse" because there was insufficient material to support its rejection of Dr Al-Zayyat's claim that she was "genuinely or involuntarily incapacitated" from taking part in the disciplinary hearing.

He said Robert Englehart QC, appearing for the GMC, had accepted that she was "not putting it on or faking it", and that she hyperventilated and suffered panic attacks when details of the Baby P case were discussed.

Mr Englehart had also accepted as genuine her claim that she was "extremely distressed and felt tortured mentally" and was "a broken-down person".

The judge said he was far from convinced that the disciplinary hearing into her conduct could not go ahead, even if she did not participate.

Dr Al-Zayyat examined 17-month-old Baby P - now named as Peter Connelly - at a child development clinic at St Ann's Hospital in Tottenham, north London, on August 1 2007 while working there as a locum consultant in paediatrics.

But she allegedly missed his injuries after deciding she could not carry out a full check-up because he was "miserable and cranky".

Two days later, Peter died at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and his brother. They were all jailed in May last year.

A post-mortem examination found he had probably suffered serious injuries, including a broken back and fractured ribs, before he was examined by the doctor, their trial at the Old Bailey heard.

The GMC accuses the doctor of knowing the toddler was on Haringey Council's child protection register but failing to carry out an adequate examination, failing to investigate the explanation offered for his injuries and failing to record whether she considered the possibility that he was the victim of child abuse.

Mary O'Rourke QC, appearing for Dr Al-Zayyat, accused the GMC panel of ignoring "overwhelming" psychiatric evidence that the doctor was genuinely incapacitated by her mental state and could not attend the hearing.

The mental health of the doctor, born in Saudi Arabia, had deteriorated to the point of breakdown after the Old Bailey trial of Baby P's mother and boyfriend, when she felt "hounded" by the press and media.

Ms O'Rourke said: "She very clearly struggled for two years to come to the GMC and defend herself, and then suddenly it became impossible for her to go on".

She suffered panic attacks, became suicidal, and could no longer fight for her reputation and career. Instead she fled to Saudi Arabia and "what she thought of as a place of safety".

There was concern that, if Dr Al-Zayyat was granted voluntary erasure, she would later apply for reinstatement at a time when it would be difficult to resurrect the case against her - "but there was very clear evidence that she was never coming back", said Ms O'Rourke.

Mr Englehart QC argued on behalf of the GMC that the disciplinary hearing was "not a full-blown criminal trial or grand inquisition".

The "ideal" was that Dr Al-Zayyat could attend the hearing.

But if that was not possible for health reasons - and her fear of being hounded by the press - there were other options, including her providing evidence via a video link or in a witness statement.

The judge suggested the medical evidence was that she had now got to the stage where she was not able "to do any, or all, these things".