Hannah Devlin, Science Editor and Sean O’Neill, Crime Editor
Published in The Times newspaper on December 15 2014
Hospital patients said to have been killed or poisoned by a “thrill-seeking” nurse may have died or collapsed as a result of natural causes, fresh evidence suggests.
Independent statistical research has emerged that raises doubts about the jailing of Ben Geen, who is serving 30 years for the murder of two patients and the grievous harm of 15 others, but the research cannot be heard in court.
Geen, 34, an ex-army reservist, was convicted in 2006 of injecting patients with potentially lethal drugs causing them to stop breathing so that he could “satisfy his lust for excitement” by reviving them. However, his legal team has argued that the respiratory arrests suffered by patients were not the “extremely rare” events portrayed at his trial.
Mark McDonald, a barrister, said Geen was imprisoned for “crimes that were never committed but created to fit the circumstances”. He said the authorities had been looking for a scapegoat because of fears over a serial killer in the hospital.
Geen’s lawyers approached statisticians because of concerns that the prosecution’s claims of the rarity of the incidents were made without the careful evidence-gathering needed to show a truly unusual pattern of events. They said the case raised the same questions about expert evidence as the case of Sally Clark, wrongly convicted of murdering her two baby sons in 1999 partly on the basis of flawed statistics.
A last-ditch attempt is now being made by Geen and his campaigners to persuade the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to refer the case to the Appeal Court, which has already upheld the conviction once.
Geen was arrested after a series of incidents over two months in 2003-2004 at the emergency department of Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire, when patients suddenly stopped breathing or collapsed. Oxford crown court was told that the pattern of collapses, which included the deaths of two patients who were already seriously ill, Anthony Bateman, 66, and David Onley, 75, was so unusual that it had to be caused by “a maniac on the loose”.
There were no witnesses, but the hospital identified Geen as the prime suspect because he had treated all the patients. When arrested by police, he was found with a syringe containing a muscle relaxant drug. However, statisticians said that the claim that respiratory arrests in A&E were rare and the incidents at Horton had to be suspicious was a subjective impression and not a reliable scientific finding.
Jane Hutton, of the University of Warwick, said evidence given at the original trial “was of no value in supporting a conclusion there was an unusual pattern, nor a conclusion that any unusual pattern was not a chance event”.
The key issue was the poor quality of the evidence relied on by the courts, she said, adding: “I’m not taking a stance on innocence or guilt. There are standards of evidence and these weren’t met.”
After gathering data from similar-sized hospitals, Richard Gill, of the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands, said respiratory arrests in A&E departments were not rare. He said Horton hospital’s own records showed another cluster of five such incidents in December 2002, before Geen worked there.
At Geen’s first appeal in 2009 three judges declined to hear expert statistical evidence, saying they were satisfied with medical professionals’ view that a spate of respiratory arrests was rare. The CCRC said it did not want to refer the case to the Appeal Court again, and has questioned the quality of the new research, claiming the data it is based on is inadequate. However, Geen’s supporters said that the data was incomplete because hospital record-keeping was poor, which raises further concerns about his conviction.
The commission said that there was “a cogent and compelling body of evidence” pointing to Geen’s guilt — notably the syringe in his pocket and the sudden decline of some patients after contact with him.
Dr Malcolm Benson, an ex-medical director at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford who reviewed 5,000 sets of patient notes to help to identify victims, said it was the “unexplained nature of the [respiratory] arrests rather than the number” that convinced him that crimes had taken place. Geen had been the nurse in all the suspicious incidents.
From Long Lartin prison, where he has been awarded a law degree, Geen protested his innocence. He said he was present when patients were being revived because he was a military-trained medic capable of helping in emergencies. His explanation for the syringe was that he often went home after a long shift in his scrubs and NHS fleece. Geen said: “I was full of confidence and enthusiasm, I would always put myself forward to work in demanding situations but because I was newly qualified staff probably felt threatened by me.”
Geen, who volunteers as a “listener” to help prisoners who may feel suicidal, said: “I need to keep busy whilst in prison, because I know that it will be many years before I can prove my innocence.”
Richard Thorburn, whose father John lost consciousness after being treated by Geen, said he believed the nurse was properly convicted. “My father spent five or six days in a coma and although he survived he never fully recovered and died in 2009,” said Mr Thorburn. “Geen was a major contributory factor to my father’s pain and poor health over his remaining years.”
Nurses in the dock
Lucia de Berk The Dutch nurse was convicted of seven murders and three attempted murders in 2000 and 2001 but had her convictions quashed in 2010. Professor Richard Gill, who believes Ben Geen is a victim of a miscarriage of justice, helped to expose errors in the statistical evidence against her.
Colin Norris The Scottish nurse is serving life for murdering four patients at a Leeds hospital by insulin poisoning 13 years ago. Doubts about his convictions will be highlighted tonight by Panorama on BBC One.
Rebecca Leighton The Stockport nurse won damages from Greater Manchester police this year after being wrongly accused of poisoning patients and held in custody for six weeks.
Jani Adams She was labelled the “death angel” after being accused of murdering a patient at a Las Vegas hospital in 1980. However, the case against her collapsed when records showed that the patient was seriously ill and died of natural causes.
Jessie McTavish A nursing sister in Glasgow, she was jailed for murdering an elderly patient with an insulin injection in October 1974. However, her conviction was quashed five months later.
Original Times Newspaper article