The disgraced pathologist, Freddy Patel, has now been stripped of his right to practice. However, it is deeply disturbing that accountability for his malpractice has taken a whole decade to come into effect. The failure of the authorities to act on the evidence of misconduct, incompetence and dishonesty over public issues of such importance throughout such a long period of time raises very serious questions about whether the framework for calling such shortcomings and defectiveness to account is really fit for purpose.
The first case involving the incompetence and misjudgement of Patel related to the first victim of the so-called Camden Ripper in 2002. Patel declared she died of natural causes, and as a result a murder investigation was not begun till much later, during which time two other murders had been committed by the same man. That alone should have led to Patel’s removal from the Home Office list of approved pathologists.
Then in 2004 Scotland Yard complained about 4 other cases involving Patel to the investigation and disciplinary system reporting to the Home Office. The independent panel governing standards of forensic experts which was duly set up then colcluded that Patel ‘needed advice on improvements to his work’ in 3 of these cases. This seems inappropriately mild and dilatory and there is no evidence how it was followed up, if at all.
The National Policing Improvement Agency which, rather curiously, runs the official register of approved forensic pathologists then revealed two damning facts about Patel. He had lied about his status and deliberately concealed that he was not in fact part of a group practice of pathologists, which the Home Office register required after 2006. So why wasn’t Patel immediately struck off at this point?
Meanwhile in 2005 a member of the public complained about Patel’s post-mortem verdict on the death of an elderly woman which he declared was due to coronary disease. A second post-mortem however, undertaken at the family’s request, found that in fact she died from an intra-cerebral haemorrhage. The GMC then from 2005 examined all these allegations of Patel’s failings, but these inquiries were delayed beacuse the GMC was subject at this time to unrelated challenges to its investigative and legal authority. As a result independent panels working to the GMC did not begin handing down decisions till September 2010. A delay as long as 5 years is frankly inexcusable.
In the 7 cases involving Patel dating back to 2002 professional failings were found in 5, including that of Ian Tomlinson who was struck by PC Harwood at the G20 protest in April 2009. Patel again declared Tomlinson died of coronary heart disease and refused to alter his decision even after finding fluid and blood in Tomlinson’s abdominal cavity and despite 3 other pathologists judging death was caused by bleeding from a traumatic liver injury resulting from his being shoved heavily to the ground.
But why did Paul Matthews, the City of London coroner, appoint Patel in the first place in 2009 for the Tomlinson inquest? In all the furore over several years about Patel’s incompetence and dishonesty, this seems an extraordinary foolish, risky and unnecessary choice. What were the reasons behind it? Had he been lobbied by anybody who wanted an acquittal for PC Harwood?