Back grey_arrow_rt.gif
HCV-Infected Victims at Abortion Clinic; doctor did not realise danger, court told
February 12, 2013
James Peters, the "hopelessly addicted" anaesthetist who infected 55 patients with Hepatitis C at a Croydon abortion clinic between 2008 and 2009, was called a selfish junkie" and an "evil man" in the Supreme Court yesterday. A disgraced, drug-addicted anaesthetist who infected 55 patients with hepatitis C did not realise his contaminated needles were being used on patients, a court has heard.
James Latham Peters, 63, has pleaded guilty to 55 counts of negligently causing serious injury to the women patients by infecting them with the potentially deadly blood disease while they underwent pregnancy terminations at the Croydon Day Surgery between June 2008 and November 2009.
His defence barrister John Dickinson, SC, told a pre-sentence plea hearing in Victoria's Supreme Court on Tuesday that after injecting himself in private with the opioid he was addicted to, fentanyl, Peters failed to realise the same syringe which contained "blowback", or his contaminated blood, was then used on the patients.
"At no stage of what he did did he intend to use the same syringe, but he did," Mr Dickinson said.
He said Peters became exposed to drugs after he married his second wife in 1991. By the mid-90s he was "hopelessly addicted".
Despite being suspended by the now defunct medical board of Victoria - at his own request - in 1996, Mr Dickinson described it as "mind-boggling" that an addict would then be allowed to go back to work where he would be put in a situation where he would have easy access to the drug he was addicted to. "It was catastrophe waiting to happen, which did eventuate. It is a little bit like putting a sugar-addicted child in a candy store and saying 'behave yourself'," he said.
Peters had a complete relapse after his wife died at the age of 38 in 2003, the court said.
He was diagnosed in 2005 with cancer, which required drastic treatment, and currently suffered from not only his opiate dependency, but also emphysema, asthma and bronchitis. His client also suspected he was showing signs of early onset Alzheimer's, the court heard.
Mr Dickinson said after the hepatitis C outbreak from the clinic was exposed in 2010, Peters' downfall had been "spectacular".
Mr Dickinson said Peters had married a heroin user, had become addicted to opiates by the mid 1990s, and would inject himself with the fentanyl before surgery.
"He has spent the last two years or more in complete solitude," he said. "He has withdrawn from the world."
Peters had lost his career, his name was now infamous and "he's fallen a long way", he added.
Peters' two daughters and his sister were his only supporters.
Mr Dickinson urged Justice Terry Forrest to consider his client's guilty plea as a sign of remorse, which he said came at an early stage, and thus prevented his victims from having to give evidence at a trial.
"Yesterday's [victim impact statement] evidence was very emotional, very powerful but one has to ... not be overwhelmed by the evidence. He has pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious injury and it's important to note, there's no allegation of intentionally causing serious injury and no allegation of recklessly causing serious injury."
He stressed that his client was an addict, which research suggested was a disease that caused otherwise reasonable and intelligent people to resort to incredulous behaviour in order to obtain their drug of choice.
He urged the judge to not be overwhelmed by the emotional stories of his victims, reiterated that his client had pleaded guilty and argued his actions, while negligent, were not intentional.
But Justice Forrest, who now has the task of sentencing Peters, said: "It's hard for me to accept that a man as accomplished and intelligent as your client ... had no appreciation whatsoever that he was placing these women in danger by his conduct.
"He knew he had hepatitis C. He knew that he was using a syringe to inject fentanyl into his system. He must have appreciated there was a danger of blowback, his own blood into the syringe," the judge said.
He described Peters' actions as a "gross and unjustifiable departure from the standard of care expected from an anaesthetist", and said a strong message had to be sent to other recovering doctors working in the medical field that such behaviour would not be tolerated.
The charge carries a maximum of 10 years' jail on each count.
Chief Crown prosecutor Gavin Silbert, SC, called for him to be sentenced to between 14 and 16 years.
Justice Forrest will sentence Peters after February 25.
IT takes nerve to stand up and describe how your life imploded when the man who put you in a psychiatric ward is sitting in the audience.
James Peters, the "hopelessly addicted" anaesthetist who infected 55 patients with Hepatitis C at a Croydon abortion clinic between 2008 and 2009, was called a selfish junkie" and an "evil man" in the Supreme Court yesterday. His victims also had some frank terms for the medical authorities who had "protected him".
Peters didn't watch Charge 4, as she was known, gulp for air and wipe at her eyes as she described her obsessive need to get "him out of me" and to get "my blood scrubbed clean".
He stared ahead when she said she couldn't run to her children when they were hurt - instead she ran for gloves.
She had had suicidal thoughts: as the day wore on, it became clear many of his victims had thought about killing themselves, spent time in psychiatric wards, had depressive episodes and lost relationships and jobs.
They had been "violated" at their most "vulnerable and voiceless".
If shame and/or grief at the termination wasn't enough, the psychological side-effects of Hep C treatment drugs tipped them into a darkness they had not known.
Two victims read out their statements. More had planned to do the same but decided the ordeal would be too painful. The prosecution read out dozens of their statements.
They repeated the same term - the "act of violence". Described the same puzzlement - what is Hep C and how did I get it? Fretted about the same fear of spreading it to loved ones. Several victims spoke of being rejected sexually by their partners.
One woman felt haunted by a quick encounter with Peters before he put her under. "You're a healthy kid," he told her, just before he infected her.
A WOMAN infected with Hepatitis C by an abortion clinic doctor believes medical watchdogs and staff members failed in their duty of care and caused the constant misery she now endures, a court has heard.
The woman read her victim impact statement at a hearing for former doctor James Latham Peters, who has pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious injury by infecting 55 women with Hepatitis C in the course of administering anaesthetics to them at a Melbourne clinic.
The woman, a mother who cannot be identified, sobbed as she told the Supreme Court the infection had "torn my life, my family and me apart".
"My trust was violated in a most horrible way," she said.
"I was violated ... I have often thought it would be better if I was dead." One woman felt haunted by a quick encounter with Peters before he put her under. "You're a healthy kid," he told her, just before he infected her.


It was gruelling. Five or six of the Croydon Day Clinic nurses sobbed in the gallery. Their role in the mess is mixed up - they blame the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria for its monitoring.
They were here for "closure".
The victims and loved ones seemed more certain after Peters was told he would spend last night in jail.
"He's going away," one woman said, beaming with what was the first smile seen in court all day.
  icon paper stack View Older Articles   Back to Top