Greek doctor convicted of tourist's manslaughter

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The Independent Online

A junior doctor was convicted today of the manslaughter of a British holidaymaker who died after falling 40ft from a hotel balcony on a Greek holiday island.

Christopher Rochester, 24, of Chester-le-Street, County Durham, died in agony from internal bleeding after being left unattended on a hospital trolley while on holiday in Faliraki in June 2000.

Stergios Pavlidis was found guilty of manslaughter by neglect by three judges at Rhodes magistrates' court today.

Two other doctors, Georgos Karavolias and Mihalis Sokorelos, were cleared of manslaughter.

Pavlidis was sentenced to 15 months, suspended for three years.

Christopher's parents, Pam Cummings and stepfather George Cummings, fought a long campaign to get justice for their son.

In 2002 Pavlidis, Karavolias and Sokorelos, who all worked at the island's Andreas Papandreou Hospital, were convicted by a Greek court of manslaughter by neglect and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Their sentences were deferred until after they appealed.

Three years later they successfully overturned the conviction.

Mr and Mrs Cummings immediately challenged the ruling and the Greek Supreme Court ordered a re-trial, which was heard yesterday.

Giving evidence, Mrs Cummings urged the judges to convict the three doctors and allow her the opportunity to grieve properly.

An inquest in Britain into Christopher's recorded a verdict of accidental death contributed to by neglect.

North Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle said at the time he had "great concern about the standards of medical care" in Rhodes.

When the holidaymaker's body was returned to the UK, a post-mortem examination found one of his kidneys was missing.

An organ was later sent to the family, but tests failed to produce a DNA match. A separate investigation into the kidney mix-up is on-going.

In a tense court room, the three judges conferred briefly by covering their faces with bundles of legal papers, before the President Judge announced unanimously that Pavlidas' was guilty and acquitted Karavolias and Sokorelos.

There was brief pandemonium as the chief prosecutor and lawyers for the Cummings family and Pavlidas argued about the sentence.

The judges then conferred again and with a flick of legal papers, ordered Pavlidas to serve a 15-month prison sentence, suspended for three years.

Immediately after the verdict Mrs Cummings broke down in tears and was comforted by her husband.

Later, after a few minutes to let the verdicts sink in, Mrs Cummings said: "I am happy in respect that last night I really did not think that we would get anything.

"We were all under the impression that the doctors were going to be found not guilty, so yes, I am happy with the outcome.

"The other two can rot in hell."

Mrs Cummings also criticised Dr Karavolias and said that if he had been in the A&E department then Christopher would have lived.

The court heard evidence that the A&E surgeon was in a hospital rest room and had left instructions that he should be called in an emergency. He maintained that no one had contacted him.

"If he had been in A&E, a trained specialist doctor, he would have been there to take over from Pavlidas, the junior doctor," Mrs Cummings said.

"If Karavolias had been (there) Chris would have lived, I am sure of it."

The family's lawyer Sotirios Manolaidis explained that it was unlikely that the three doctors would be barred from practising again, a decision Mrs Cummings slammed.

"Greek justice is not true justice, that's my opinion. Even when all three were originally convicted they continued to work pending the outcome of their appeal," she said.

Mr Manolaidis said that even if Pavlidas appealed the verdict it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would overturn the conviction because today's decision was unanimous. A full written judgment by the court is to be given later.