Surgeon's conviction for poisoning wife 'unsafe'

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The Independent Online
FRESH medical evidence casts doubt on the 12-year-old conviction of Paul Vickers - the consultant orthopaedic surgeon jailed for life for poisoning his wife with an anti-cancer drug - the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

Eight experts are now of the opinion that Vickers's wife, Margaret, disabled and suffering from schizophrenia, did not die from the cancer drug CCNU administered by her husband, but from complications of her mental illness. Michael Mansfield QC, for Vickers, said a body of medical opinion led by Professor Laurence Henry, head of pathology at the University of Sheffield, had found indications that Mrs Vickers inhaled food particles due to an abnormal swallowing reflex associated with schizophrenia, causing respiratory failure which led to multiple organ failure and death. This finding rendered the conviction 'unsafe and unsatisfactory', Mr Mansfield said.

Vickers, now 58, a former member of the British Medical Council's ethical committee, was jailed for murder at Newcastle Crown Court by Mr Justice Boreham who recommended he serve at least 17 years.

The prosecution had alleged that Vickers administered the drug knowing it would result in the destruction of the bone marrow and aplastic anaemia, from which the pathologist concluded that Mrs Vickers had died. Vickers claimed the drug was used to treat a brain tumour she was convinced that she had. In fact, she did not have cancer.

Although Vickers lost an initial appeal in 1983, nine years later the Home Secretary referred the case back to the Court of Appeal on the basis of the new medical findings. But yesterday, Robert Smith QC, for the prosecution, said it stuck by its case that Mrs Vickers died from CNNU poisoning - either through an accumulation in her body or by a final dose of the drug administered nearer to her death in June 1979. He would be calling five medical experts to counter the evidence of Vickers's experts.

The appeal judges are expected to decide today if the new evidence is admissible.