8 Mar 2015

Doctor granted permanent name suppression

1:49 pm on 8 March 2015

A senior doctor who viewed child pornography over 14 years has been struck off but granted permanent name suppression for the sake of his children.

The man, who was employed as a medical officer and clinical leader at a public hospital, came under investigation after Customs officials found more than 3800 deleted images on a laptop after his return from a family holiday in 2013.

In a decision released on Friday, the Health Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal said de-registration was the appropriate penalty for such serious misconduct and also censured him and ordered him to pay 30 percent of the Tribunal's costs.

It was the second time he had been investigated for child porn offences, after escaping conviction in 2010 when the Court of Appeal dismissed the charges from 2008 due to a technicality.

At that time, he was allowed to continue practising medicine, but obliged to have a chaperone present when treating children.

This condition was lifted in February 2012 since the charges against him had been dismissed and he found it "embarrassing and an impediment to his career".

He admitted later he had already started looking at child pornography again by then.

Knowing he was under investigation again, the doctor confided in his GP and started seeing a clinical psychologist.

He claimed to have "self-disclosed" to his employer, but, the tribunal notes, it appeared he only did so after the psychologist told him he had a professional obligation to report him if he did not.

When he appeared before the Professional Conduct Committee of the Medical Council in January 2014, he described a feeling of having "got away with" accessing images in the past, and he felt guilty and ashamed that he had returned to that "dark place".

He claimed to have an addictive personality with dependencies on alcohol, cannabis and pornography.

He stated he was keen to get help but was afraid of losing his career.

When asked by the committee what he considered the consequences of viewing child pornography were, the doctor said he thought if he deleted everything and did not save anything, then he would be okay and that he would be unlikely to be 'pinged' on the New Zealand police radar."

He said he was still passionate about medicine and wanted to return to medical practice, possibly specialising in palliative care or gerontology (treating the elderly).

His lawyer said he had admitted his guilt early and was remorseful.

"He realised he was probably naive to think that the photographs were all that was happening and that part of the shame and guilt now comes from a realisation that this was a form of child abuse. He acknowledged that the viewing of child pornography was not a victimless crime and he feels awful that he, in some way, was involved in encouraging this industry."

She told the Tribunal he was an excellent doctor, who should be allowed to resume practising, with conditions in place.

However, the prosecutor for the Medical Council's Professional Conduct Committee said such serious misconduct, the lengthy period of the offending, and his "lack of insight" into the effect of his offending, suggested he was not fit to work as a doctor.

The tribunal, in its judgment, conceded the doctor had already suffered "catastrophic" consequences from his offending, including the break-up of his marriage, he is no longer living with his children, and the loss of his job.

But it ruled that due to the seriousness of the offending, de-registration was the most appropriate option.

However, it granted his application for permanent name suppression, firstly because he can no longer work as a doctor, there was no danger of any member of the public consulting him without full knowledge of his background.

Secondly, regarding the impact on his children, the ruling said: "in the Tribunal's view, the publication of their father's name with the full details of this case would be likely to have a seriously adverse impact on their lives."