Greek doctors face jail after conviction over Briton's death  

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Relatives of a British bar manager who died after a fall on the Greek island of Rhodes said they suffered a "rollercoaster of emotions" during a trial which ended yesterday with three doctors convicted of his manslaughter by negligence.

Christopher Rochester, 24, from Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, died in Rhodes Town hospital after falling 40 feet from a balcony in Faliraki, a day after arriving on the island in June 2000. Michael Sokorelos, George Karavolias and Sergios Paulidis each received a three-year sentence, suspended pending an appeal.

The legal system in Greece allows the doctors to pay off their sentence and avoid serving time in jail. Two nurses, Pinagiotis Kalafatis and Despina Kazaki, who faced the same charge, were acquitted after the three-day trial.

Mr Rochester's mother, Pam Cummings, 46, who has raised thousands of pounds to fund the legal campaign, said yesterday: "At the moment the verdicts were announced, I did not know what was going on. It was just a whirlwind of emotions. I'm just so relieved and so glad we have achieved what we set out to do. Even though it was emotionally draining to the point of exhaustion, it's been worth it."

Mr Rochester's brother Keith, 29, added: "I can't be pleased because Christopher should never have died in the first place and I don't feel we have won anything but we have seen justice done."

Mr Rochester had flown to Rhodes to join Keith, who rushed him to hospital after the accident. It was claimed that it took 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive and that Mr Rochester had been "bounced about" on a stretcher, before being left in severe pain on a trolley in the hospital.

The case focused on claims that Dr Paulidis, a hospital intern who had qualified in Russia but was training in Rhodes, transferred Mr Rochester from the casualty unit to an orthopaedic ward after failing to find a senior doctor who was sleeping in another part of the hospital.

The doctors' defence team claimed that Mr Rochester was too drunk to co-operate with staff. His brother dismissed this as "ridiculous".

Mr Rochester's family and Kevan Jones, the MP for North Durham, fought a legal battle for more than three years to have the doctors and nurses prosecuted over his death. They felt yesterday that, at last, justice had been done. Mr Jones was preparing yesterday to lobby Parliament about the standard of medical care in Rhodes and the threat it posed to British tourists. He said that he also intended to meet Foreign Office officials to discuss the issue.

Keith Rochester, who had been working as a nightclub manager in Faliraki, said the outcome of the case would be of comfort to the British tourists who travelled to the resort every summer.

"These people now know if they treat anyone else in the way they have treated Christopher, they are not going to get away with it.

"This can only be good for British people visiting Rhodes and for the Greek people who visit the hospital themselves," he said. An inquest into Mr Rochester's death in Britain in July 2001 recorded a verdict of accidental death contributed by neglect. The North Durham coroner, Andrew Tweddle, said he felt "great concern about the standards of medical care" on Rhodes. In October of that year, Mr Jones told the House of Commons that Mr Rochester's body had been returned to the UK from Rhodes without its left kidney. When the Greek authorities were informed, they sent a kidney from Rhodes.

But DNA tests showed that the organ did not belong to Mr Rochester.

The legal campaign suffered a series of setbacks. On one occasion, the case was adjourned for eight months after one of the three doctors was not properly summoned for trial; on another, a nurse failed to attend a hearing.