Struck-off GP admits to killing two patients without their consent

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 21 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3346
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

    Police may reopen a murder investigation into Howard Martin, the County Durham GP acquitted of murdering three patients five years ago, after he told a newspaper reporter on Friday 18 June that he had ended the lives of two patients without their consent.

    Dr Martin, 75, was struck off by the General Medical Council last week for putting 17 patients “at risk of serious harm or death” by administering large doses of painkillers “on the scantiest of evidence.” In an interview with the Daily Telegraph published after the GMC’s decision, he admitted hastening the deaths of some patients to ease their suffering, including two who had not consented to having their lives ended.

    He accepted that his confession put him at risk of “spending the rest of my life in prison” if police decided to reopen the case, but he insisted that he had acted out of Christian compassion and had only wanted to make his patients comfortable “in their hour of need.”

    The double jeopardy rule, which prevented defendants being charged a second time if they had previously stood trial for the same offence, was abolished in 2005, allowing another prosecution to go ahead if “new and compelling” evidence emerges that was not available at the time. Dr Martin did not give evidence at his trial, nor did he speak at inquests into the deaths of the patients, and he did not attend the GMC hearing.

    He could also be charged with killing patients other than the three for whose murders he was tried at Teeside Crown Court and acquitted in 2005. Durham police said they would confer with the Crown Prosecution Service before deciding whether to take any further action.

    The GMC’s fitness to practise panel found that he administered doses of painkillers “far in excess” of the recommended doses. In one case, the panel heard that the patient, who was 74, might have gone on to recover from oesophageal cancer had Dr Martin not given him 200 mg of diamorphine on the day before he died.

    Dr Martin’s actions were aggravated by his “egregiously dishonest” actions towards that patient’s family, said the panel’s chairman, Brian Gomes da Costa. Dr Martin had told the family that the patient’s cancer had spread, when “there was no truth whatsoever in that statement.” The panel considered that “his dishonest statements were both despicable and dangerous.”

    The panel found that his actions were “reckless in the extreme” and “deliberately and directly harmful to his patients and their families.” His “independence and idiosyncrasy led him to practise in an extremely dangerous fashion,” said Professor Gomes da Costa.

    In administering grossly excessive doses of controlled drugs to the patients, “he hastened their death, thereby removing their fundamental right to life.” In three cases the cause of death Dr Martin gave on the death certificate was inaccurate.

    Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told the BBC, “I’m horrified that the doctor seemed to indicate in the interview that he actually hastened the death of two patients without their consent. I’m speechless.”

    The events span a period from 1994 to 2004, when Dr Martin practised from three locations in County Durham. He lives in retirement in Penmaenmawr, Gwynedd, in Wales.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3346

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