Race-row doctor faces trial over patients' deaths

SEEN as carrying out Nazi-style experiments by some and as a victim of racial vendetta by others, Richard McGown goes to Zimbabwe's High Court today to face charges that his use of unorthodox anaesthetics killed five patients.

That the case has taken on heavy racial overtones since it broke in October 1990 - he is white and three of the patients were black - was inevitable, given the bitter history of white minority rule and the independence war that ended 14 years ago. Disputes over the government's efforts to acquire farmland, mainly white- owned, and vitriolic attacks on whites by leading politicians, such as the Deputy President, Joshua Nkomo, have ensured a high profile for the case.

At its centre is Dr McGown, 57, a father of three who was born in India, raised in Scotland, studied at Edinburgh and trained in Sweden. He has denied any wrongdoing, but informed neither his patients, over 500 in all, nor his superiors, that he was using the method, which doctors have said runs the risk of provoking respiratory failure.

Smith Marara, an MP who presented a parliamentary select committee report on the case in March 1993, said Dr McGown had said 'that he was particularly interested to find out the sensitivity of black females to morphine when this narcotic is injected epidurally.' The patients who died were 19-month-old Kalpesh Nagindas after circumcision; two-year-old Tsitsi Chidodo after dental treatment; Irene Papatheocharous, 26, a white, after an operation to remove a gallstone and appendix; Rose Osazuwa, 62, who had her bladder tightened; and 10-year-old Lavender Khaminwa, who had her appendix removed.

The Minister of Health, Dr Timothy Stamps, one of two whites in President Robert Mugabe's government, has defended the epidural method as 'conventional, safe and time- honoured'. But it required close post-operative monitoring which was lacking in the private Avenues Clinic in Harare where Dr McGown practised. Investigations resulted from a campaign by Charles and Mary Khaminwa after their daughter's death.

Mr Khaminwa, a Kenyan lawyer trained in the US, had sent Lavender to the clinic. She died a few hours after the operation.

The Khaminwas had to sell property in Kenya to fly in international experts to review the autopsy, but inquiries by police and the Health Professionals Council dragged on until October 1990 when the independent weekly, the Financial Gazette, published a story on the case. A month later, 200 University of Zimbabwe students staged a protest march.

In March 1993 the parliamentary select committee report appeared with testimony that Dr McGown had settled out of court with the families of several patients who had suffered brain damage. Within 48 hours, he was charged with five counts of premeditated murder, later reduced to culpable homicide, and released on bail, the equivalent of pounds 100,000. The Attorney-General allowed Dr McGown to return to work under the restriction of not using epidural injections. He did use them and was banned for violating normal hospital procedures.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there