Thursday, 23 August 2012

Dr "Natural Causes" Patel struck off

One piece of good news for the people of North London today must be the long delayed, highly-justified striking off from the medical register of Freddy Patel, long-time pathologist in the Camden area of London, who was associated with so many dubious decisions on causes of death leading to both miscarriages of justice and, in the case of the Camden Ripper, two avoidable murders (avoidable had Patel done his job properly and led police to arrest the murderor, Anthony Hardy, before he killed again). The Guardian:
Freddy Patel, the pathologist who wrongly said Ian Tomlinson died as a result of heart disease, has been struck off the medical register over a catalogue of errors dating back more than a decade. 
A tribunal of the General Medical Council (GMC) said that it had no option but to erase Patel from the register after findings earlier this week of dishonesty as well as incompetence.
Patel, who qualified at the University of Zambia in 1974 and has practised as a pathologist for 35 years, was found guilty of misconduct but was not at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), sitting in Manchester.
Though the focus of the media now is on the last celebrated case in which Patel was a main player, the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson in the G20 protest, in fact this was only one in a long line of seriously flawed examinations carried out by Patel that were familiar to those who followed news in North London over a couple of decades.

In the case of prostitute Sally White, killed by Anthony Hardy, Patel produced a superficial "death by natural causes" decision (heart disease again) despite the most extraordinary and suspicious circumstances of her being found dead and naked on a bed in Hardy's locked flat with cuts and bruises to her head: circumstances that should have obviously caused him to look more carefully at the death. The case was memorable to me because the block of flats was right by the Royal College Street segregated cycle track (which I helped to plan). Hardy's two subsequent victims were found dismembered in pieces, at least in part in the bins behind the pub, the College Arms (now demolished), that stood at the junction of Crowndale Road and Royal College Street, by the cycle-specific traffic lights that feature in this blog post. I rode past there regularly.

In fact, in Camden, in the 1990s and 2000s, every time you read in the local papers of an odd decision on a death, attributing it to "natural causes", be it as a reasult of an assault, a road crash, or some other claimed strange circumstance or accident, there always seemed to be one name at the bottom of the column: Dr Freddy Patel. There was a pattern that the casual observer of the local news could see, even if they had no specialised knowledge. It didn't seem to need an expert investigation by other doctors, it looked obvious that something very strange was going on. This has now been fully confirmed by the General Medical Council:
The Rev Robert Lloyd-Richards, the chairman of the MPTS fitness to practise panel, which heard the case, told Patel he had an "unwarranted confidence" in his ability, "a deep-seated attitudinal problem" and also "lacked insight". 
"Your rigid mind-set, illustrated by your inability to reflect on the case of Mr Tomlinson, and your unwarranted confidence in your own abilities, does not convince this panel that it would be appropriate to impose conditions, even with the most stringent supervision, on your registration," said the written determination from the MPTS.
"The panel considers that you have a deep-seated attitudinal problem."
Patel had tried to cover up his mistakes both in relation to Tomlinson and also to an earlier postmortem, of a woman referred to as Miss E.
He first appeared in front of a professional conduct committee in 2002 and in front of two fitness to practise committees in 2010 and 2011. He had been suspended from working twice.
Patel has actually been investigated over seven cases dating back to 2002, but I suspect there were more that should have been investigated. Why did this take so long? According to The Guardian again:
It has also emerged that, from 2005, the General Medical Council, the doctors' professional body,was examining other allegations of Patel's failings including his part in the notorious case of the Camden Ripper, but was held up by unrelated legal challenges to its investigative and legal authority.
So it's been a thoroughgoing regulatory botch-up, again. Signs that were obvious were not officially acted upon until too much damage had been done.
The Home Office and NPIA [National Police Improvement Agency – strange title for a body] believe measures introduced over the past two years will prevent a repetition of the Patel disaster. That means there is unlikely to be any further official review. The NPIA, which is being abolished under the government's bonfire of the quangos later this year, believes Patel probably only carried out one forensic examination into a death – that of Tomlinson – after June 2007 when it took over running the Home Office's register.
I hope they are right. Meanwhile, we still have the related justice problem of the validity or appropriateness of the system of coroners' verdicts.

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