The Hearing

The Professional Conduct Committee held the inquiry between the 21st and 24th of March 1996 at the General Medical Council. My imagination had worked overtime in the preceding months and the venue and the cast did not disappoint me. The General Medical Council has imposing premises, and the room in which the hearing took place was very similar to a courtroom. The committee and chairman sat at the front of the chamber with the opposing lawyers on either side. Dr Fairhurst sat with his counsel throughout and a public gallery containing the press and friends overlooked the whole spectacle. Witnesses were not allowed to observe from the gallery until they had given their evidence and been cross-examined. Until our turns came, all witnesses were seated in a small adjoining chamber, where we read and tried to pass the time. Everyone was tense and conversation was difficult.

I recollect that I gave evidence and was cross-examined for about three hours - at least it seemed that long to me. Dr Fairhurst's defence was intent on discrediting my character and proving that the complaint against him was malicious. During the questioning I was concentrating on answering the questions precisely and honestly and did not find it distressing. However, others felt that it had been vitriolic and at times rather too personal. The hearing lasted a total of three and a half days and was an emotional rollercoaster as the case unfolded.

The most impressive witnesses were the patients who had been involved; their testimony was very powerful and moving, and all stated clearly that they had never consented verbally or in writing to be entered in any research studies. Their evidence was supported by consent forms containing false signatures and a great deal of evidence obtained by the General Medical Council from the pharmaceutical companies involved.

The official investigation had uncovered many irregularities in Dr Fairhurst's running of trials and we felt thoroughly vindicated.

The most disturbing event for me was the character reference from the Chairman of St Helens and Knowsley Local Medical Committee, Dr Colin Ford, who, after Dr Fairhurst was found guilty, stated that the committee maintained its confidence in Dr Fairhurst and wished him to remain a member of the committee and to represent them on the ethical committee dealing in matters such as drug trials. I took this as a sign of local medical opinion and felt hugely let down by my colleagues.

On the Friday afternoon the committee found Dr Fairhurst guilty of serious professional misconduct and directed that his name be removed from the register. Dr Shah, Jean Young, and I walked out of the General Medical Council together, braving the TV and radio reporters before quickly disappearing into the busy London streets.

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