News

Paediatric cardiologist is found guilty of sexually motivated behaviour towards boys

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e6459 (Published 25 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6459
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

The former head of cardiology at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London “abused his position as a doctor in the most reprehensible way” over 13 years, the UK Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service has found.

Philipp Bonhoeffer’s case “represents one of the most serious forms of abuse both of young boys and of his own privileged position as a member of the medical profession,” declared the service’s fitness to practise panel.

The panel, which hears cases brought by the regulator of the UK medical profession, the General Medical Council, found Bonhoeffer’s fitness to practise impaired and struck him off the medical register. The cardiologist’s “apparently complete lack of insight” and failure to take action to remedy his misconduct meant a substantial risk of repetition in the future, the panel added.

As the BMJ went to press the panel was considering whether to strike Bonhoeffer off the medical register.

The panel found Bonhoeffer guilty of sexually motivated behaviour towards FT, the 10 year old son of friends in Paris, and towards at least six boys in Kenya, which he visited to do humanitarian work from the early 1990s. From about 2003 to 2008 he was chairman of the medical board of the UK based charity Chain of Hope, founded by the leading heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub, and had visited Kenya to work under its auspices.

The panel accepted evidence from FT’s mother that Bonhoeffer, who caressed her son’s body while he apparently slept, had admitted that he had “a paedophile tendency, that there was no help for him, and that he hoped some children in Kenya would never speak of what happened to them.”

The panel’s chairman, David Kyle, said that “the lengths that Professor Bonhoeffer went to cultivate the relationship with FT and his family in order to fulfil his sexual and emotional gratification was an aggravating feature of his conduct and added to the seriousness of it.”

In the case of the Kenyan boys Bonhoeffer “went about securing the opportunity to abuse his victims sexually by misusing his power and position as an influential European doctor, to establish ‘father and son’ relationships with them, including life changing financial sponsorship, so as to increase the likelihood of them tolerating his sexually motivated behaviour towards them,” Kyle said.

“The fact that A and the other Kenyan boys were from the most deprived backgrounds, of which Professor Bonhoeffer was acutely aware and which he exploited, was an aggravating feature of his conduct.”

Bonhoeffer won a High Court ruling last year that it would be a breach of his human rights if the allegations of abuse were put forward in transcripts of police interviews, mobile phone messages, and texts rather than in oral evidence from the main witness, A.1 In the event, A, who is now in his late 20s, testified by video link from Kenya.

The cardiologist decided to take no part in the hearing in Manchester and was not legally represented. In a letter from his solicitors to the GMC dated last May, he denied the allegations but said that he had no confidence in the GMC processes and had no intention of resuming practice in the United Kingdom. His employment at Great Ormond Street ended in May 2010.

The panel found that he had sexually touched A when he was aged 13, 16, and 19, without his consent, and had shared beds with other boys in Kenya over a decade, including one who had been his patient and one who was the younger brother of a patient.

“As to the abuse of Kenyan boys, this occurred when they had become his ‘family’ and regarded him as their father,” Kyle said. “Professor Bonhoeffer achieved this relationship by fostering their love for him and securing their dependency through extensive financial support.

“In short, the panel found that he had used his personality and his charitable work as a vehicle to establish enduring relationships with these boys and young men and to create their emotional and practical dependency on him in fulfilment of his disposition.”

Kyle added that there was no evidence from Bonhoeffer or any other source that he had taken any action to remedy his misconduct. The panel was in no doubt that clinically he had performed to the highest standards and had a deserved international reputation in paediatric cardiology.

He also gave “a considerable amount of time and money for charitable purposes and philanthropic causes,” and the panel was prepared to accept that he may have been genuinely concerned to promote humanitarian causes. “But his pursuit of them in the circumstances with which this panel has been concerned were overshadowed by his disposition.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6459

References