It’s been a busy few months, with a couple of nice interludes, but a lot going on, over and above the routine clinical work and other day to day stuff.
So the middle of March began with a break to do the inaugural Full Moon Race in the British Virgin Islands. This involved the team flying out to Antigua, sailing to Tortola where were confronted with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma damage. Visual images on the web and broadcast channels do not prepare you for the devastation and for the strength of character for those rebuilding lives and homes. The event was within the 48th BVI Regatta – and the Islanders had used this a way to get tourists back. Arriving in Road Town Harbour and seeing hundreds of sunken boats is not something any of us will forget. The welcome of the Islanders to all visitors was incredible and we did what little we could (beach clearance, raising money for school sailing team whose boats had been destroyed) to assist. The sailing was incredible and we podiumed (2nd) after the Full Moon Race – 200 miles round 64 of the islands. A humbling but overwhelmingly uplifting experience for all.
In April , on return the immediate job was assessment for Forensic Healthcare Services ISO9001: 2015 accreditation, replacing extensively the 2008 version. Always a tense time but now successfully re-accredited. Discussions with a charity on pro bono support of a miscarriage of justice overseas. Fascinating case, but like most, always there to remind us that legal systems (no matter how seemingly unfit for purpose – including ours) retain the ability to be challenged. Back to the FFLM (in its smart, larger offices – still in Alie Street) for the final Board Meeting before the Annual Meeting. Delighted to be there with Michael Wilks, outgoing Registrar, having spent two fantastic years working together trying to develop Forensic & Legal Medicine and the FFLM with the team. The new Registrar is forensic pathologist Dick Shepherd (who has also preceded me in presenting a number of episodes of ‘Autopsy: The Last Hours of…), supported as Assistant Registrar by forensic physician Alex Gorton. They’ll make a great team to work with the President and other senior officers.
Progress on the ‘Flowers & Snow’ travel diary of Madeleine Hyde with Gavin Jamieson of Lapwing Publishing knocking it into shape. I’ve written a Preface now, so we just have a bit more editorial tidying and cover design before we go to press for a very limited edition of this piece of charming Edwardian ephemera.
Met with producer and director from the BBC to discuss a small piece within a new documentary coming out later this year presented by Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson. Returned to the Royal Courts of Justice for a third trial (which cannot be reported) in which the mechanism of injury was (unusually) a key point around which the judicial determination hinged. Multiple forensic medical experts (clinical and pathological) were generally in agreement, which is always reassuring.
To Jersey to discuss a possible murder trial, again where causation of injury and mode of death are significant issues. I always make the point to students (and everyone else) that forensic experts (whatever their background) are generally small pieces in a much larger puzzle, and that rarely is the medical or scientific evidence the sole means of proving guilt or innocence. We are one piece of the jigsaw. Always be wary of the expert who believes he provides all the pieces. Then on to Tbilisi in Georgia with Sue Carney of Ethos Forensics together as a team placed by Forensic Healthcare Services, to jointly review evidence in a complex double murder trial. Again a fascinating experience, and reassuring that general forensic principles (give or take a bit) are similar in other jurisdictions. It was a pleasure to work with Georgian forensic colleagues.
Unrelated to that case, had the great opportunity to see long-time friend and colleague Rusudan Beriashvili, Associate Professor of Forensic Medicine at Tbilisi State Medical University. Our collaboration has been related to torture issues in the past and she is a leading light in this field. Had a great meal with her husband and colleagues.
On return to UK was expecting to travel to Jersey for an attempt murder case for the prosecution but pleas were entered and the defendant pleaded guilty to grave and criminal assault.
Into May and was delighted to speak at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Police Controlled Drug Liaison Officers in Stratford-upon-Avon on ‘Death from Prescription Drugs: Factors in Investigation’. A fascinating and little known (to me, anyway) group of police officers with a significant role. There are great opportunities here for collaboration in areas such as medication management.
Delighted to be part of an independent group providing expertise and opinion to police and others on Taser use. A wide range of diverse opinions allow substantial discussion and consensus on proposals for future input and oversight. Then to Cardiff to catch up with forensic pathologist Richard Jones, co-author of 14th Edition of Simpson’s Forensic Medicine, which should be out in 2019. A lot of work still to do.
Then the Annual Conference of the Faculty of Forensic & Legal Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians. A really superb event with a range of brilliant speakers, including Professor (now Dame) Jane Dacre – President of the Royal College of Physicians, Dame Elish Angiolini – Chair of the Independent Review into Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, and HHJ Mark Lucraft QC – Chief Coroner for England & Wales, Felicity Gerry QC – co-author of the Sexual Offences Handbook and George Ryan, Senior Clinical Advisor, Criminal Justice Team, Public Health Team. All ‘outstanding’ (in the word of Alan Partridge). An excellent Conference led by President, Professor Carol Seymour.
Met with Senior Editor, Miranda Bromage of Taylor & Francis to update her on progress of Simpson’s 14. She remained calm. Took youngest daughter to Buckingham Palace to receive her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award – very proud of her. Then a return to Georgia to prepare further work for the complex murder trial.
In June now, and return to UK to discuss some possible broadcast programme ideas, which may progress later in the year. Then very excitingly met my old boss, mentor and friend Professor Harold Ellis CBE for lunch. Possibly the funniest couple of hours I have had for a long time. As I said to him, pretty much everything I do professionally, I think to myself, ‘what would Prof have done’. Despite being his registrar at the Westminster Hospital over 30 years ago, we have kept in touch and when I was involved in setting up a publishing company (Greenwich Medical Media) he was generous enough to publish with us. And just to show what a small world, Miranda Bromage (my Simpson’s Senior Editor) is overseeing his new book – an updated version of one of the one he wrote for us at Greenwich Medical Media. He is still working, teaching anatomy. His looks and enthusiasm belie his years.
Delighted to see student friend, Sally John, now with her own daughter Bridget, who was visiting. She established a successful physiotherapy practice in Canada, and is a fanatical sportswoman. Seems impossible that we’ve not seen each other for decades.
Birmingham next for the inaugural meeting of the Small Business Division of the Chartered Society of Forensic Scientists. I spoke on ‘Building Business Success’ – mainly by explaining how not to do it. This is a great initiative and I believe important for CSFS, all credit to Gareth Bryon who drove this first meeting, and is now going into well deserved retirement. Then to Fukuoka, Japan for the triennial International Academy of Legal Medicine Congress where Dick Shepherd and I put in a bid to host the next Congress in 2021 in Glasgow led by the FFLM. Sadly it was not to be but a large number of UK and European experts were out there (including Professor Denis Cusack, Dr Linda Teebay) contributing. I was delighted to be able to introduce youngest daughter to the legendary Thomas Noguchi (Coroner to the Stars) who had been born in Fukuoka. He told her he wanted the city to send him a letter when he is 100 inviting him back to speak. A truly beautiful country and city with a thriving forensic community of academic excellence.
To Belfast for a case conference related to a sensitive manslaughter case. This type of case really emphasises to me how important it is not to make judgements on what you see on TV, read in the papers, or catch on social media. Unless you’ve seen and heard all the evidence your opinion is valueless.
At short notice I travelled to Mexico City for briefing and then to Acapulco at the request of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team. This was to examine a number of prisoners in Guerrero Prison who had been arrested for murder and who had alleged ill-treatment and torture. Although time was limited we managed to achieve all that we wanted and were able to produce relevant reports within the very limited time scale. It was a real pleasure to meet Mimi Doretti and the rest of the anthropology team who have done so much work in recovering and identifying the disappeared.
Then a day’s filming on the BBC documentary. Pleasure to be working with a great team, including David Wilson again and Emilia Fox. Great professionalism in a great location at St Mary’s Hospital, Praed Street, with some good technology which I think will add to the story.
Perhaps the most gratifying thing that happened for a long time was the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Alexander Monson in Diani in Kenya. Despite huge obstacles, the senior magistrate (coroner) after an inquest taking place over 3 years concluded that he did not die from drugs, or natural causes, but whilst in the custody of the police. Although this should not seem a thing to celebrate, the fact that justice has so far been served, and a number of police officers now face trial for murder, emphasises that (as with the Monson family), you should never give up the fight to get justice.
In July workload was predominantly clinical or court work up and down the country (trials on rape, non-recent abuse, non-accidental injury, murder, manslaughter, and some more straightforward grievous bodily harms with intent) and fitness to stand trial and cases such as torture allegations or asylum appeals. July is a big month in the family for birthdays. Also was able to take a student around courts and other work settings, to give a flavour of the nature of work in forensic and legal medicine. This is not often easy because of the randomness of work and multiple locations but taking this enthusiastic student to court, seeing patients (detainees) and custody suites, meeting police, attending conferences with counsel emphasised two things – 1) that many people in the criminal justice system may be under huge stress but are prepared to give up their time and encourage those who are interested and 2) that we forget how varied and interesting the criminal justice system is.
August has been set aside for writing. Writer’s block has prevailed – perhaps it was the heatwave. But am at last getting back into a writing zone. We managed to fit in an FME Audit Meeting. It’s always nice to catch up with colleagues and have a collective moan. But constructive points arose from this, and there is no question, these meetings give a sense of community, when things are tough.
Also nice to catch up with neighbour and old friend, Tommy Walsh.
Was delighted to fly to Inverness on a beautiful morning to lecture on ‘The Future of Forensic & Legal Medicine’ at the inaugural meeting of the North of Scotland Forensic Support Network at Police Scotland Highlands and Islands HQ. It’s the only lecture where I have had the opportunity to have an excuse to show slides of me as a 5 year old on Whalsay, one of the Shetland Islands. A great initiative which will enhance forensic medical services to police and complainants.
Have just attended the BMA Annual Book Awards and was delighted that the book I co-edited with Joe Beynon and Duarte Nuno Vieira – ‘Monitoring Detention, Custody, Torture and Ill-Treatment’ was highly commended in the Basis of Medicine category. So that’s helped a bit!
Highly Commended – BMA Medical Book Awards 2018