Writing trauma


I want to write this post as close as possible to giving evidence at the General Medical Council (GMC) tribunal investigating Dr Murphy’s fitness to practice. To capture the essence and rawness of the experience.

The unnecessary and unchecked brutality. And destruction.

It’s a pretty and long detailed account. That is writing trauma.

[I also acknowledge our GMC solicitor and colleagues who have done what they can to try to ease this journey.]

Weeks of dread led to Rich and I setting off to Manchester (earlier than planned) by train on Monday. Summer holiday travel. Young kids and families. Excitement and crisps.

Our summer has been blighted by the timing of this tribunal.

Rosie decided to come too after I was unable to speak to her on the phone on Sunday evening (after writing this post). I simply couldn’t speak.

Stirring up the horror of what happened four years ago now is, as you’d expect, deeply distressing. LB died. He died. The shite we accepted or were made to endure back in the day is harrowing. And increasingly baffling as we grow further from the cosh of typical learning disability offerings.

Following the @JusticeforLBGMC twitter feed on the train we were surprised when Dr Murphy accepted 28-30 of the allegations raised. Not the Dr Murphy we’d so far come across. With so few allegations left to deal with our thoughts turned to the apology I would probably receive when giving evidence the next day. An apology four years in the making. But an apology.

The next morning, we gathered in the hotel minutes from where the tribunal was being held. George and Charlotte left for the tribunal just before 9.30am. I switched my internet off. Witnesses are not allowed to hear witness evidence and LB’s neurologist was due to give evidence before me. Rich, Rosie and I sat around. Anxious and agitated. Rosie followed the twitter feed passing her phone to Rich every so often. It’s fine, they said. Looking grim. The GMC solicitor called to say the 10.30am start for my evidence was looking on time.

Rich answered the phone. I was on the toilet. Again.

We walked up the road. A couple of men with television cameras at their feet were outside the building chatting. On the 7th floor, we were shown to an inevitably bleak witness room. The GMC solicitor and barrister came in and described what to expect.

We waited. There was an unexpected delay of about 45 minutes as the tribunal panel questioned the first witness.

We flicked through photos of LB on Rosie’s phone.


“So cute…”

“Look at that baguette he’s holding!” [sob]

IMG_2810Then it was time. The clerk took us into the tribunal room (left). Rich and Rosie sat in the public bit at the back while I was taken to a large desk facing the tribunal panel. It had a white arch level file with over 1000 pages of documentation, glass of water and microphone.  Before sitting I had to read an oath from a laminated coloured sheet. I couldn’t read it without crying. I couldn’t at LB’s inquest. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s such a stark reminder of the horror that is this (public sector generated) experience and the layers of utter shite that have been woven through it since.

The panel chair introduced the people around the table. The GMC barrister checked I’d signed and re-read my two statements which were in the front of the white file. Then it was over to Dr Murphy’s barrister, Mr P.

There was no apology. Our naive optimism was instantly crushed. Mr P asked me to turn to page x in the file and began a meticulous questioning that involved turning backwards and forwards between my two statements in the front of the file and medical records 700 or so pages towards the back of it.

He had a skimpy pile of the relevant pages laid out in front of him. He didn’t have to lob wedges of 1000+ pages backwards and forwards over a metal lever arch file bridge and leaf through numerous pages to find the relevant page, and section of text.

Briefly scanning through pages of painful words about LB’s horrific last few months.

His lightness of documentation and organisation of the ‘cross-examination’ meant he effortlessly lined up question after question after question. I felt I was being repeatedly sliced open with such a sharp knife there was no trace left on the blade.

“If you could turn to page x… Dr J is summarising his thoughts here, in this paragraph. Did he share them with you?”

“He made a phone call to Dr M. Can you remember how long that call lasted?”

“Turning back to page y. Do you recall Dr Murphy introducing herself in this meeting? In your statement on page j, you said…”

“If you could turn to page z of your statement. CTM meetings were held every Monday, you describe them as 10min meetings. Dr Murphy recalls the meetings being much longer…”

“Turning to page a, another meeting you did not attend, the notes state…”

A masterclass in something.

Over time, photos can become defining memories of particular events as the broader context fades away. Under Mr P’s questioning, on the 7th floor of that imposing building on Oxford Street, Manchester, LB’s medical notes became photo-like. It became impossible to think about and answer the questions that kept coming. To think beyond the words I was being directed to on different pages at different ends of the lever arch file. My heart started to thud so hard and erratically I thought it would knock me off the chair. Black edges creeping around my vision made it harder to find or read the notes. I became fearful of fainting and began to doubt my ability to answer questions truthfully.

“I don’t remember.” “I’m not sure.” “I just don’t know…”

Mr P continued asking questions. Apparently at ease with an approach that unsettles,  distracts and confuses. Seemingly oblivious to my distress. No one intervened. I had no representation.

“On page j of your statement you describe Dr M as dismissive, arrogant and distant. Do you think that’s a fair assessment of Dr M’s conduct or is it coloured by what happened?”

“It might be coloured by what happened but I was expecting a knight in shining armour from a lead consultant who would do something.”

“It’s very upsetting for Dr Murphy to hear any patients’ relative describe her as such…”

Something stopped. An almost powerpoint presentation (and I fucking hate powerpoint) started to run through my mind. LB holding a giant piece of baguette on holiday. The indescribable pain of his death. What we’ve endured over the past four years. Dr Murphy suddenly admitting 30 odd failures in LB’s care a day earlier. Rich and Rosie sitting behind me listening to this inhumane and barbaric form of questioning with no recourse to action.

I gripped the edge of the table and asked the panel chair for a break.

The clerk took me to a room on the other side of the building. By this time, I was sobbing and repeatedly asking “How could they do this?” without expecting an answer. She was very kind but couldn’t ‘talk’ to me. I was left on my own with a glass of water and tissues for five minutes. There are no words for how I felt. They don’t exist.

Walking back towards the tribunal room with the clerk the blackness came back and I briefly stumbled. ‘Do not pass out’ I steeled myself. The thought of delaying this foul process was too awful to imagine. There was a delay before going back into the room as the tribunal were deliberating something. I stood in a section of the corridor with Dr Murphy and her legal team. Rich, Rosie and other members of the public were waiting in a different section of the corridor. I stared out of the window. Half seeing the Manchester skyline, Oxford Road rail station. The clock tower. Grey and threatening skies.

We were allowed back in the room.

Mr P started:

“I was asking about personality side of things and dynamics and wanted to ask you a little about your blog…”

And so it went on. The same questions that had been asked, answered and dismissed during LB’s inquest. Pages to manoeuvre. Notes to look at. Mr P didn’t miss a beat.

After two hours it was finally over. We left the building ignoring the television cameras outside and walked back to the hotel.

I can’t make any sense of experiencing harm in a medical tribunal. One held to explore the fitness to practice of our son’s responsible clinician. How on earth can this be possible and apparently acceptable?

And Mr P? You have taken crapshite to a new low.

Postscript: After Valerie Murphy spent the entire day giving evidence (well worth a catch up at @JusticeforLBGMC with a blood pressure warning for being chillingly shit) it became clear my evidence contributed nothing to the defence case. Nothing whatsoever. It was the equivalent of a kicking down a dark alley by a gang of thugs.




43 thoughts on “Writing trauma

  1. How can this happen and how can they possibly allow a witness in your situation to be so cruelly intimidated
    So manipulated and horrifying
    Thankfully you kept your strength although it must have been devastated by blow after blow
    I’m ashamed of our justice here. You think it’s ok then you find out it’s not and it’s devastating

  2. You are a amazingly strong person, and to do what your doing is amazing, stay strong, don’t let them for one minute make you question whether you can do this because you can, LB would be so proud and as are all the other LB,s in the world! Sending you lots of love and strength xxx

  3. I can’t believe they would do this to you – well no – I can believe it. I just don’t understand why. Why this should be seen as necessary or just or fair. You are remarkable – lots of love

  4. Sarah, High five to you. RESPECT. You are doing what is right and everyone with a conscience knows it. Fuck every fucking single one of them forever. I hope every fucking cunting one of them ROTS in HELL.

  5. I wonder how much Mr. P is earning for defending the indefensible and at the same time trying to destroy you. Too much I expect.

  6. It’s odd for Mr P to say that Dr M would be upset at (just) being called dismissive, arrogant and distant.
    We’re talking about much, much worse things here.

    You’re still being stalled by process. It seems like time wasting.
    Why weren’t the same papers out in front of you, that were out in front of Mr P?
    And why does Dr M have a team, and you not?

    Why isn’t she speaking for herself, the way you are having to do?

    • Unfortunately – just as a criminal trial is Regina v Criminal, a doctor’s Tribunal hearing is a judicial procedure, i.e. GMC v Doctor.

      Victims of crime (including families if relevant) are ‘only’ witnesses for the prosecution (the Crown) just, as in this instance, Sara is a witness for the GMC.

      The victim’s only right at a criminal trial is to make a ‘Victim Personal Statement’, which a lawyer can help prepare and even present to Court (after the verdict but before sentencing). Even this facility for victims was only introduced in 2001 – https://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/news/press-releases/victims-com/vps-research.pdf – before that victims had no say at all other than as witnesses. I hope the Tribunal will give Sara the same opportunity.

      This might all seem grossly unfair (and it is – I know as a victim of crime) but it would require a complete upheaval of the British legal system and Primary Legislation to change! Any victim of crime or professional misconduct would love the opportunity to ‘shred’ the evidence of the accused!

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  9. My son died so I know the pain of being a bereaved mother. I have been treated with compassion and this has helped me to survive the last 4 years. John had stage 4 cancer and the NHS did their best. This helps. LB’s death by contrast could have been prevented and Sara and family have had horrible experiences since which were also preventable. Bereaved families need empathy and compassion not rough treatment. Shameful.

  10. Only recently has the outrageous fee for an employment tribunal, been rescinded.

    How many people on a minimum wage have walked away unemployed – wrongly dismissed – facing the loss of their children’s modest home. People who did not/do not have a voice – and who could not/cannot seek, far less expect justice; deterred first by this seedy access ticket price added to all the other costs, including a very reasonable terror of the tribunal process itself.

    The well fed suited and booted at the high table – the naked victim – alone – in the dock.

    Power when held to account protects itself – by placing justice far out out of reach.

    Only the bravest and the most resilient last this unfair unjust callous obstacle course – made as brutal as possible to defend and protect the powerful….against the powerless,

    …….. and deter ….others.

  11. Everyone else has pretty much summed it up, I’m horrified for you. An ugly system defending ugly deeds. Just know that people are following events and sending love to you and your family.

  12. Ah Sara this is once more a shocking indictment of the glaringly obvious incompetence of protected professions, at your expense and historically presumably at the expense of patients in her ‘care’ . But you did it – you did what you could and I’m glad you have written this – we need to know how all this works or doesn’t work.
    People can read your account and know how truly awful it was for you at this hearing, because of what was allowed to happen to LB by those who let him, you and all of us down, and who continue without censure.

  13. Sara, you write so eloquently, there is a painful, aching beauty to your words. The emotionally detached, contrived and heartless machine of denial, refusal and arrogant insensitivity you illustrate so well. My heart aches for you – I can only begin to imagine how painful this is. My eldest son has profound learning disabilities and we have experienced intermittent shite dumping that compounds the paucity of services, the absence of contrition, humility and compassion. Vileness. They really are a complete bunch of cunts – shame on them. Particularly poignant and beautiful is the brilliance and radiance – the love, the passion of you and your family. With love and solidarity, Jo

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  15. I am sorry you had such a dreadful experience, particularly at a GMC tribunal which in its nature is meant to be inquisitorial rather than adversarial. As a barrister I practice in the criminal courts where harsh questioning is sometimes but rarely a necessary recourse. The gratuitous causing of distress by counsel in cross examination is a betrayal of the privileges and responsibilities afforded a barrister. Sadly I sometimes see such behaviour by advocates but more rarely these days than 25 years ago.

  16. Sadly, your experience is no surprise, neither is your use of the language of torture, e.g., I felt I was being repeatedly sliced open with such a sharp knife there was no trace left on the blade.”
    I too, experienced cruelty on cross-examination when my 3yr old son was abducted 30 yrs ago. I was traumatized.

    Some3 decades later, whilst some changes have been made, more needs to be done. As a barrister, I now advocate for Truth Without Trauma! I have trained thousands of witnesses over last 20 years, most of whom use the language of torture to describe their experiences of being cross-examined. This is unacceptable.

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  21. I am currently reading your book. I am a registered nurse and I work as an SVQ health and social care assessor. Many of my students are care workers and managers for service providers who have clients with autism. I feel it is my duty to remain informed about tragedies such as your son’s. I like to refer my students to evidence such as your book to consider in their practice and in safeguarding their clients. I am alarmed that so often when suggest people read or watch ( such as Winterbourne) that I get the reaction ‘ I could not bare it , I would find it too upsetting’. My response is usually, that yes it is upsetting, but I feel it is my professional duty observe and take note . If we do not pay attention, and make ourselves aware, we will repeat the mistakes of the past. Thankyou for sharing your story and I will continue to publicise its existence.

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  23. I have just reread this awful gut wrenching account in the light of yesterday’s decision to suspend the doctor for a year. An inadequate punishment indeed, but it is a punishment, it will stay on her record for ever, and hopefully also on her conscience. And without your perseverance and your courage and your sheer dogged determination it would not have happened at all. So please Sara, take a moment to say – Yes, we did it. March will bring further vindication when Southern Health are in the dock. Nearing the end of a long road, far too long, time for your healing to begin.

  24. Sara – inadequate punishment and inconsistent with other MPTS decisions, such the doctor who assisted her rugby club cheat and misled an investigation by the rugby authorities – no harm done (save to the club’s reputation) and she had valid mitigating circumstances. I witnessed the incident too – very close up – so I speak with authority. Google ‘Bloodgate Harlequins’ for details.

    Moreover, an horrible Inquest at Winchester Coroner’s Court took place during the last three days too: I attended on Tuesday. It appeared that Sloven instructed Council to vilify a very young support worker, who common sense suggests should not have been asked to carry out 15 minute observations on such a vulnerable suicidal patient. Its Counsel also raised damaging allegations about the patient against the Coroner’s ruling – with the jury excluded but still in the presence of the public and the press. The press (all known to us) agreed not to publish even after the jury had reached a conclusion – it would only cause the family even more anxiety and distress. They agreed provided that I don’t publish it on my blog! To avoid doubt, I wont.

    Same old story – despite a new Board of Directors – blame junior staff and damage the patient’s reputation but protect those responsible for supervision. I will be writing a blog post on this later without the gory details – meanwhile see: http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/16033630.Southern_Health_worker_admits_lying_to_police_about_checks_in_the_minutes_surrounding_patient_s_death/

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