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Sir Terence O'Rort
27 June, 2005  
Lord Eldon lays down the law

Lord Eldon puts down a mutiny or two over his inquiry into “Dr Death” and fondly recalls his days as a naval cadet at TS Bundaberg (toot, toot). Sir Terence reviews the transcript


imageI’ve been sifting through the transcript of the second week of the Bundaberg Hospital Commission of Inquiry, which has Brisvegans in a fairly excitable state.

There is large selection of ripe nuggets from Lord Eldon (the former A.J.H. Morris QC), the commissioner in charge. I’ve selected what I regard as the fruitiest of his pronouncements, starting with this insinuation that while he (Eldon) is a Roman general, counsel for the Medical Board, “Whispering” Ralph Devlin, is his slave:

“In ancient Rome when a general was given a triumph after a successful battle campaign, the authorities arranged to have a slave travelling in the chariot with the general whispering in his ear, ‘Remember, you are still mortal’. Fortunately, in these proceedings, the solicitors for the Medical Board, Gilshenan & Luton, have arranged for Mr Devlin to be here with his vast experience in inquiries to fulfil a similar role, and yesterday he very properly and very helpfully reminded me of my shortcomings and mortality in this regard in pointing out that I had made a mistake, which I readily acknowledge.” (T713 L30-40)

A smattering of other gemlets shows the sort of flourishes of which Eldon is capable:

“Doctor, I have to admit I’m probably getting out of my depth here, but I would have thought that nobody in the world has bowel surgery unless they need it.” (T564 L8-10)

”[Commissioner] Sir Llew [Edwards] could theoretically perform a heart transplant tomorrow, but would be far too sensible to try because that’s not his area of practice.” (T608 L48-50)

“Candidly, Dr Molloy, you don’t have to go to the literature to know 100 per cent complication rate is unacceptable.” (T608 L48-50)

“Well, Im not sure that flagrant incompetence is a breach of discipline.” (T637 L1-2)

If readers were to get the impression from the transcript that His Lordship is inclined to being a tad self-inflated, there are these marvellous self-deprecating moments:

“Sorry you are right. I have to go back to kindergarten.” (T759 L2-3)

“With these late night sittings I lose track of what day it is.” (T853 L33)

There was a momentary hiccup to the soothing flow of proceedings when some airborne indiscretions came to light.

One of the counsel assisting is Damian Atkinson, son of former Brisbane Lord Mayor Salary-Anne Atkinson. A former Director General of Queensland Health, Dr Robert Stable, was fortunate enough to be seated next to Salary-Anne on a southern flight, where he engaged in chitchat about the inquiry.

The ex-Lady Mayor told Damian, who told His Lordship, that Stable had said that His Lordship was, ”... wining and dining the people whom he perceives as being the enemies of Queensland Health, with a view, apparently, to getting them to come here and give evidence and say bad things about Queensland Health”. (T711 L10-18)

imageEldon (seen here in the bottom position) soon put paid to that rotten slur. It was completely out of context for, even though he had met with potential witnesses in what he described as “public places”, everything was kosher because counsel assisting had been present at the meeting.

Eldon was livid:

”... whatever might have been his experience when he [Stable] was with Queensland Health, he is not going to succeed in bullying me or bullying anyone else associated with this inquiry.” (T711 L47-52)

Good heavens no.

Things improved towards the end of the week, so much so that His Lordship offered a witness, Dr Lennox, a job with the inquiry because he was so impressed with the fellow’s evidence.

David Boddice SC, for Queensland Health, came across as a bit of a spoilsport when he suggested that before Eldon could form the conclusion that “Dr Patel was killing patients in Bundaberg” (T949 L10-11) it was really “a matter of hearing the evidence”. (T949 L27-29)

Barely a week later the commissioner decided that he did not need to hear all the evidence before he released an interim report recommending that Dr Patel be charged with murder.

Such has been the level of incandescent outpourings about the now offshore curry-munching “surgeon” that one can only hope that the Bjelke-Beattie government fails in its efforts to lasso him back to the Pineapple Belt. A trial would be unlikely to happen in the current climate and Dr Patel would just be sitting about causing a pong on the media tart’s doorstep.

Given the economies achieved by His Lordship’s interim finding one wonders why the inquiry is plugging on in Bundaberg for a further three or four weeks?

His Lordship gave us a clue on the first day of the Bundaberg sittings when he said:

“I think it’s not inappropriate for me also to add that at a personal level I’m particularly happy to be back in Bundaberg. I had some very fond times here when I was a schoolboy at the naval cadet unit TS Bundaberg. That’s more than 30 years ago so I won’t go into that.” (T964 L18-22)

Aye, Aye Admiral. More next week as the good ship Eldon sails into Dr Patel’s murky personal hygiene waters.

Sir Terence O’Rort filing from Brisbane