You may have read my previous blogs about Derek Keilloh – I mentioned him here, and there is a fuller account of his case here. Briefly, he was a young army GP, still six months short of completing his vocational training, who was posted at short notice into Basra at the height of the second Gulf War in 2003. He was given no pre-deployment training, no useful support from senior army medics, nor was he told that the unit he was going to included a detention facility, and that he might be called upon to care for detainees.
On the night of 15 September, he was called out to see a detainee, Mr Baha Mousa, who had collapsed. In the stifling and unlit detention centre, Dr Keilloh realised that Mr Mousa had suffered a cardiac arrest. He initiated resuscitation measures, but despite treatment which was universally agreed to be exemplary, his patient did not recover.
It subsequently emerged that Mr Mousa had been physically abused during his detention; four soldiers appeared before a court martial, and one was found guilty, and imprisoned for a year. Dr Keilloh was called as a witness, but at no point was there any suggestion that he had been complicit in the maltreatment of Baha Mousa.
Several years later, Dr Keilloh was reported to the GMC for failing to report evidence of physical abuse to his senior officers. The complaint was backed up by photographs of Mr Mousa’s face, showing obvious signs of bruising; this was taken six days post mortem, after the body had been transported 20 miles to the nearest morgue. It turned out that the complainant was Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, an outfit which exists (or existed, see below) to seek out and prosecute allegations of abuse of detainees by British troops.
To cut a long story short, on the basis of inconsistent evidence from witnesses produced by PIL, the GMC’s Fitness to Practise Panel (FTP) decided, on the balance of probabilities, that Dr Keilloh was lying, and that they ‘had no alternative’ but to strike him from the register, thereby ending the career of a doctor who they themselves admitted posed no risk to his patients, and who was ‘a man of good character; a highly respected and dedicated doctor with excellent clinical skills who is trusted and respected by colleagues and patients alike; an honest, decent man of integrity’.
Make sense of that, if you can. And if you read the second blog linked above, you’ll see that, even if they managed to convince themselves that he was guilty, they did have alternatives to erasure. The more I think about the FTP’s verdict, the more unjustified it seems.
But why am I raising this issue again now? Well, in a deliciously ironic turn of events, Phil Shiner is now being arraigned before the legal profession’s own disciplinary body, the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal, and may even face criminal investigation by the National Crime Agency. This is the result of the ill-fated Al-Sweady war crimes inquiry, brought about at the instigation of PIL, which swallowed £31 million of public money before collapsing when it emerged that Shiner’s ‘civilian witnesses’ were actually Iraqi militia members who had been paid to lie. PIL has now been forced to close down after it was barred from receiving any more public money, following an 18-month investigation by the Legal Aid Agency.
Derek Keilloh was convicted on the basis of statements from witnesses brought forward by PIL; we now know that there must be significant doubt over the veracity of those witnesses, whose evidence appeared to change during the long course of his ordeal, and there must surely be a case for the GMC to review his erasure as a matter of some urgency.
His family have continued to fight for Derek, and on 12 July, a petition with 3,550 signatures calling for his reinstatement was presented in Parliament. Admittedly, it seems unlikely in these days of revalidation and re-accreditation that he will ever practise medicine again – he has in any case been appointed to a highly responsible scientific post in industry – but it is surely right that his conviction be reviewed, and his name cleared, in the light of these events.
In addition, the Ministry of Defence are conducting their own review of all legal cases brought by PIL, and Derek’s family have requested that they include his case in their review. He may not be in the army any more, but given the lack of support he received when he was a junior officer pitchforked into Basra, completely unprepared for his role, they owe him big time.
I sincerely hope that Phil Shiner’s tribunal appearance is as drawn out as possible – it could hardly be worse than the bumbling conduct of the GMC during Derek Keilloh’s trial by procrastination. In the meantime, while there is a mechanism to appeal against GMC decisions deemed to be too lenient, there is no way to question verdicts which are clearly disproportionate or offend against natural justice, and this issue must be addressed.
We can only hope that the GMC’s new Chief Executive, Charlie Massey, makes it a priority, but I won’t be holding my breath.