Page last updated at 20:04 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Experts clash over County Durham patient deaths

Dr Howard Martin
Dr Martin was cleared of murder in 2005

Two home office pathologists have given conflicting evidence at an inquest into the deaths of three patients of a County Durham doctor.

Dr Howard Martin, 75, was found not guilty in 2005 of murdering Frank Moss, 59, Harry Gittins, 74, and Stanley Weldon, 74, with overdoses of morphine.

Coroner Andrew Tweddle has said the inquest, which reopened this week, cannot contradict the criminal trial.

The pathologists disagreed over morphine's role in two of the deaths.

Dr Mark Egan told Chester-le-Street Magistrates' Court that he thought morphine "accelerated the death" of cancer patient Frank Moss in 2003.

However, Dr Nathaniel Cary told the inquest: "It cannot be confidently concluded that morphine either hastened (Mr Moss's) death by any significant amount of time or at all."

Legal challenge

Dr Egan said the cause of Harry Gittins' death in 2004 was morphine toxicity and bronchopneumonia, but Dr Cary said it was only caused by bronchopneumonia.

They both agreed that the death of Stanley Weldon in 2003 could not be ascertained.

All three men were patients of Dr Martin when he was a partner of the Jubilee Medical group and worked at surgeries in Newton Aycliffe, Shildon and Eldon.

Reopening the inquests on Monday, Mr Tweddle said it was inevitable Dr Martin's name would come up many times because of the history of the matter.

But he stressed Dr Martin was "not on trial in any shape, way or form".

After Dr Martin's acquittal at Teesside Crown Court, Mr Tweddle decided not to hold an inquiry into the deaths, saying a thorough investigation had already taken place and he could not force the GP, who now lived in Penmaenmawr, Gwynedd, North Wales, to give evidence.

But in November last year, a High Court judge overruled his decision and ordered an inquest into the death of Mr Moss following a legal challenge by his daughter.

The inquests continue.

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