A recent inquest into the death of a six month old baby, Julia Gujdanoco (JG) has sparked off a police investigation after a coroner has questioned whether a senior doctor at Sheffield’s Children’s Hospital (SCH) tried to “pervert the course of justice”. The case was referred to the police by the Sheffield coroner on 9 November following a disclosure during the inquest that a senior consultant had told a junior colleague what evidence to give at the inquest.

The inquest

David Urpeth, the Sheffield assistant deputy coroner (the coroner), delivered a verdict of natural causes contributed to by neglect after hearing that JG had been moved from a critical care unit to make space for new patients. JG was taken to a “regular” ward where her condition deteriorated. After repeated requests from nursing staff she was transferred back to the critical care unit. During the transfer she suffered a fatal cardiac arrest.

Clinician’s attempt perverts the course of justice

During the inquest the coroner learnt that Dr Mayer, a senior consultant, had told Dr Harries, his junior colleague to state under oath that JG was stable and the transfer was appropriate.  

The deputy coroner has publically criticised the evidence given at the inquest on a number of fronts. He made the following observations:

  • he felt there was a deliberate attempt to pervert the course of justice;
  • there had been reluctance by some witnesses to be as helpful as they could be; and
  • the court should not have to suffer evasiveness from professional witnesses.

Consequences for perverting the course of justice

Perjury is considered a serious offence and a witness who is found guilty of perjury will face imprisonment of up to seven years or a fine as legislated under the Perjury Act 1911. Whilst prosecutions are rare, it is essential that witnesses take responsibility for the content of their evidence and only proffer evidence which is true to their knowledge, understanding and belief. In addition to the legal implications, witnesses must be alive to the possibility of being subject to:  

  • robust investigation;
  • professional disciplinary; and
  • employment disciplinary consequences,

where the evidence they given is found to be false or subject to coercion.

This case highlights the negative implications for both the trust and witness where false evidence is provided under oath.