Seven more say they were rapist's victims: Kathy Marks reports on the Harley Street doctor who was jailed for sex offences yesterday

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The Independent Online
THOMAS COURTNEY may have raped or indecently assaulted seven other women, according to police. Like the four victims who testified in court, they say they were either drugged and raped, or assaulted in a professional context such as a job interview.

'Every time he appeared in court, more women came forward,' a police source close to the investigation said. 'Victims were ringing us up from all corners of the country. We'd never seen anything like it.'

The 46-year-old doctor was jailed for seven years yesterday for sex offences against four women, provoking criticism from an anti-rape campaign group.

Women Against Rape expressed disgust at what they considered a lenient sentence. A spokeswoman, Catherine Wenden, said: 'The sentence is low. The courts have not done their job yet again. Ten years would have been a better reflection of the seriousness of the offences.'

Courtney had earned a reputation for his attitude towards women long before the police knocked on his door. But sex was not his only obsession; fame and money came close behind. He set up a medical charity for HIV-positive women which received donations of hundreds of thousands of pounds, but treated few patients. He claimed, falsely, to be a hospital consultant. He portrayed himself as the national expert on Aids and a pioneer in the field, but knew nothing about the disease.

He had a house in Hampstead, north London, lived in considerable style and claimed to mix with the rich and famous. He was also handsome, charming and plausible, the 'perfect rapist', according to police. He was well-dressed and well-spoken, a conman of consummate skill.

'He set up the perfect environment in which to commit these offences,' Detective Inspector Mike Williams said. 'The charity gave him the opportunity to exploit every vulnerable woman who walked in through the door.

'His victims were left either not knowing what had happened to them or thinking it was a formal procedure they had had to go through. He abused his professional position quite appallingly.'

The 6ft 4in Courtney had no qualifications beyond a medical degree. He called himself a gynaecologist, but was not a specialist and was not a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He practised from Harley Street, but money was the only requirement to acquire premises there.

He also claimed to be a psychosexual specialist, but was not trained as such. If he saw patients in this capacity, he used highly unorthodox methods - he told the court that he treated women with sexual problems with vibrators.

A former senior medical officer with a London health authority said: 'In medicine, you get a small number of rogues, crooks and psychopaths. I would put Courtney towards the far end of that spectrum. I can think of few people I have ever met in medicine whom I have so distrusted.'

The offences alleged by the other seven women - two of whom came forward after the Old Bailey trial began - are two rapes, one attempted rape and four indecent assaults. They all date from the past two years, except one which is said to have taken place six years ago.

Courtney's victims were mostly under 30, often blonde and always vulnerable. What they also had in common was their reluctance to go to the police because they were convinced that no one would believe their word against his.

Among other women who gave statements to police was one who was interviewed as a nanny for Courtney's one-year-old son. He told her that she would have to undergo a medical examination before he could give her the job. The breast examination turned into a grope. The woman actually had a lump in one breast which Courtney did not find.

Stories about him appear to have circulated at every stage of his career, including a period in Dublin, where he worked at two maternity hospitals, a spell in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s and his time in Harley Street.

He has been married for six years to another doctor, an opthalmologist, who testified in his defence. A woman who knew him in the late 1980s through her work with a major Aids charity said: 'I was in no way surprised by what was said in court. He was always going on about sex, it just never stopped. Every woman he met, young or old, he wanted to have sex with. It was quite disgusting. He was the same with the HIV-positive women he met. He made a lot of women feel very uncomfortable. I once asked him why he chased so many women when he had such a gorgeous wife. He said: 'Oh, she understands'. ' There were other victims, perhaps many, who never reported Courtney to police.

One HIV-positive woman who went to his surgery for a letter of diagnosis has said that he gave her an internal examination which turned into a sexual advance. She did not report him because she did not expect to be believed. Another patient related that he stuck his hand up her vagina for five minutes while continuing to talk to her normally. Victims who were not patients were either drugged - with what was probably a large dose of tranquilliser whose after-effects included memory loss - or misled by his charming manner and professional approach. Courtney was born in Northern Ireland and has six brothers and sisters who are doctors. His father is a retired senior civil servant in Ulster and an OBE. Courtney qualified as a doctor in 1978 from Trinity College, Dublin and did postgraduate training at hospitals in London and Dublin.

He spent a year in Saudi Arabia, where he worked at military hospitals in Riyadh, and left that country in a hurry, reportedly fearing for his safety. On his return in 1985, he turned to the Aids field. According to a senior doctor who knew him: 'The reason for his interest was quite obvious. It was at a time of peak public concern about Aids. Money was swimming around and it was terribly easy money.'

In 1987, he set up a charity, the Courtney Foundation, with the stated intention of offering primary care services to drug-addicted and HIV-infected mothers and babies. It operated under the name of Womb and received large donations from, among others, the the Laing building firm.

The Daily Mirror and TV Times ran long articles about Womb. The Princess of Wales was asked to become a patron but was warned off by friends who knew of his reputation.

In late 1989, Courtney appeared on the Thames Television's The Time, The Place and claimed to be looking after 666 HIV-positive women. Workers in the field knew that nothing like that number had been diagnosed at the time.

Alarming stories began to circulate about Courtney among major Aids charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and the National Aids Trust. His activities came to the attention of the Department of Health, whose minister, Virginia Bottomley, told the all-party parliamentary group on Aids that concerns about Courtney had been 'very seriously taken on board'. Representatives of eight agencies and charities held two meetings to discuss how to handle him. 'Everyone in the field was aware of how dangerous he was,' one senior Aids worker said.

Courtney had no training or qualifications in the Aids field. He preached the safe sex message but admitted in court that he did not use a condom with one of his victims, a woman he had just met.

His knowledge of the disease was, according to Dr Noel Olson, former director of public health at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, 'about Reader's Digest level'. But he told donors that he was a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician who looked after Aids patients at the Royal Free. In fact, he was a research assistant at the hospital, conducting a project connected to Caesarean sections. Dr Olson reported him to the General Medical Council, but no further action was taken. One doctor discovered that he had been charging one of his HIV patients, a well-known public figure, extortionate fees such as pounds 1,000 for a blood test.

'On the HIV front, he was totally dishonest,' Margaret Johnson, HIV/Aids consultant at the Royal Free, said. 'He's charming and intelligent, but a complete liar, an evil man.'

The foundation was, according to the police source, 'a total and outright fraud'. A fellow Aids worker said: 'A lot of people were taken in by him. He was always chatting up rich people - socialites, rock stars, businessmen. He boasted that he knew Cecil Parkinson and went to see him at Westminster to ask for money.'

The main problem with Womb was that the large amounts of money received in donations did not appear to be being spent on patients. Courtney's appointments book had few entries in it when it was examined by police. Julian Sorsby, executive director of the charity until he realised that all was not what it seemed, told friends that there were simply no patients passing through.

The Charity Commission is examining the Courtney Foundations's finances. Its accounts show that it received donations totalling pounds 366,000 in the three years up to 1990. In 1988, more than 90 per cent of donations was spent on 'administrative expenses'.

(Photograph omitted)