News

Paediatric cardiologist is accused of making sexual advances to young boys in Paris and Kenya

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e5933 (Published 04 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5933
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

A hearing of sexual impropriety has opened at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in Manchester against Philipp Bonhoeffer, the former head of cardiology at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London.

The long list of charges includes allegations of sexual advances to young boys in Paris, when Bonhoeffer was working at the Necker Hospital in the mid-1990s, and in Kenya, where he worked for the Chain of Hope charity set up by the transplant surgeon Magdi Yacoub. Bonhoeffer has refused to attend the hearing, which is going ahead in his absence.1

This means that he will be unable to cross examine the principal witness from Kenya, a man now in his late 20s, who will give evidence by video link. Because of attitudes towards homosexuality in Kenya, witness A, as he is called, will not be named and will speak from behind a screen, having argued together with other witnesses that their lives would be adversely affected if their identities became known.

The allegation that Bonhoeffer had also behaved inappropriately towards a boy in France was not part of the original charges. The charge sheet claims that when confronted by the boy’s parents he admitted that he had paedophile tendencies and hoped that some children in Kenya would never speak of what had happened to them.

At a preliminary hearing in July the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service panel determined that the hearing could go ahead in Bonhoeffer’s absence. Strenuous attempts to reach him had failed, and a letter from his solicitors, RadcliffeLeBrasseur, had stated that he intended to take no further part in the proceedings and that they had not been instructed to act in his absence.

Bonhoeffer has strongly denied the allegations made by witness A, and an investigation by the Metropolitan Police in 2008 did not result in criminal proceedings. The results were passed on to the General Medical Council (then responsible for fitness to practise cases), which proposed to rely on transcripts of police interviews and mobile phone messages and on texts from witness A in bringing a fitness to practise case. Bonhoeffer successfully argued in the High Court that such hearsay evidence was inadmissible, the judges ruling that it would deny him a fair trial.2 3

Mr Justice Stadlen said, “Not only is the evidence of witness A the sole against [Bonhoeffer] in support of most of the allegations against him, but insofar as those allegations involve alleged misconduct towards other victims, those victims were interviewed by the Metropolitan Police Service and denied that the allegations were true.”

The charges also allege that Bonhoeffer contacted witness A and asked him to withdraw his statement. Witness A was in his early teens when the incidents took place, he alleges.

The case opened on 3 September and is expected to last until 5 October. Bonhoeffer has been suspended from the UK medical register pending the hearing. He stopped working at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2009.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5933

References