[back] Pathologists

Surgical precision?

Private Eye March 2007

THE Home Office pathologist called in to investigate the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot by police at Stockwell tube station, has been found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

When Dr Kenneth Shorrock (pictured) was approached to carry out the de Menezes autopsy, he was about to face a General Medical Council disciplinary hearing: his alterations to a post mortem report in another case had led to a surgeon being accused of manslaughter after a patient bled to death.

The GMC heard that in his first report on Gladys Allen, 78, Dr Shorrock, then a consultant pathologist at the Royal Halifax Hospital, said she had been given "necessary surgery" by locum consultant urologist Hurais Ramis Syed. He said there was "no definite evidence of any avoidable deficiency in the medical or surgical treatment that she received".

But Shorrock produced a second report after the coroner asked him "to reconsider his findings", in which he deleted the sentence clearing the surgeon of blame and wrote: "Likely that death was contributed to by inadvertence, both before and during the operation." He also changed his witness statement from "left renal artery had been transacted close to its origin", to "a hole in the aorta where the stump of the aorta would normally be found". Mr Syed was charged with manslaughter but cleared at Leeds Crown Court in 2003.

In its ruling, the GMC panel found the changes were "unprofessional, inconsistent, unreasonable, inappropriate and not based upon the medical and pathological information available to him; and that they were likely to bring the medical profession into disrepute". Of course Dr Shorrock also put a statement that was not based upon "medical or pathological information" in his report on de Menezes: he said the Brazilian had leapt over the ticket barriers while being chased by police - something which turned out not to be true.

However, after hearing that Dr Shorrock had changed his working practices, had carried out 115 further autopsies without complaint, and had the support of his colleagues, the GMC panel decided he should not be struck off or suspended. Instead, Dr Shorrock was given a reprimand. So that's all right then.