Children's doctor Philipp Bonhoeffer wins hearsay evidence case

Professor Philipp Bonhoeffer Philipp Bonhoeffer worked at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital until 2009

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A paediatric cardiologist has won his High Court bid to prevent hearsay evidence being used in disciplinary proceedings over child abuse claims.

Prof Philipp Bonhoeffer, of Camden, north London, denies allegations of sexually abusing children in Kenya.

The General Medical Council referred his case to a fitness to practise panel, which decided to consider hearsay evidence from a Kenyan man.

The court has quashed the panel's decision to admit the hearsay evidence.

Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Stadlen declared the panel's conclusion that it was fair to admit the hearsay evidence was "irrational".

The judges added that it breached the former Great Ormond Street Hospital doctor's rights to a fair hearing.

In the ruling Mr Justice Stadlen said: "The more serious the allegation, the greater the importance of ensuring that the accused doctor is afforded fair and proper procedural safeguards. There is no public interest in a wrong result.

"For these reasons in my judgment the (panel's) conclusion that it was fair to admit the hearsay evidence of Witness A and its decision to admit it was irrational and constituted a breach of the claimant's Article 6(1) right to a fair hearing and cannot stand. The decision must accordingly be quashed."

'Single source'

Following the decision, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: "We will need to study the judgment carefully, but it is important to note that the judicial review was on a narrow point of law about the admissibility of some of the evidence.

"The GMC case remains open."

He said the cardiologist "continues to be suspended from the medical register under an interim order".

Prof Bonhoeffer's barrister Kieran Coonan QC had asked the court to overturn the decision by the fitness to practise panel saying it would violate the doctor's human rights.

The GMC alleges he is guilty of serious sexual misconduct and has temporarily suspended him from the medical register while the disciplinary panel considers his case.

The cardiologist's barrister told the court the claims of sexual misconduct arose during his work as a doctor in Kenya "and his association over a considerable period of time with a number of young males who are nationals of Kenya".

Start Quote

It is hard to imagine circumstances in which the ability to cross-examine the uncorroborated allegations of a single witness would assume greater importance to a professional man faced with such serious allegations”

End Quote Mr Justice Stadlen High Court

He said the doctor had "funded their education, their accommodation and living expenses".

The court heard the evidence against Prof Bonhoeffer in the majority of allegations came from "a single source", known as witness A, who he had also given financial assistance.

The disciplinary panel wanted to admit the evidence of the witness, but said it did not want to bring him to London to testify because it believed the man would be at risk of being harmed in his homeland if he was identified in proceedings as having engaged in homosexual activity with the doctor.

Witness A, who is now a married father in his late-20s, also claims there were other victims, but those claims were not supported by any other witnesses, Mr Coonan said.

In the ruling Mr Justice Stadlen added that the panel made no findings that there would be a significantly greater threat to the safety of Witness A if he came to the UK and gave evidence than if his hearsay evidence was put before the panel.

It was a "remarkable feature" of the case that the witness himself had repeatedly expressed "his willingness and ability to attend to give live oral testimony and expressed himself as willing and able to do so right up to the date of the hearing in front of the panel," the judge said.

He added that there was a "formidable" argument for the "extremely eminent consultant paediatric cardiologist of international repute" to be accorded the opportunity to cross-examine Witness A.

The judge said: "It is hard to imagine circumstances in which the ability to cross-examine the uncorroborated allegations of a single witness would assume greater importance to a professional man faced with such serious allegations."

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