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Court accepted that date rape drug was found in Eireann, so why is her career under threat?

By Fionola Meredith

Published 24/04/2015

Losing your entire career as a result of someone else's criminal action - it sounds like a nightmare, the kind you wake up from sweating, or the plot of an implausible thriller. Yet this is exactly what could happen to Dr Eireann Kerr.

The 32-year-old Belfast anaesthetist faces being struck off the medical register after being found guilty of assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and disorderly behaviour.

Fair enough, you might say - that's not the kind of conduct we expect from medical personnel. But Dr Kerr was not responsible for her actions. She might have looked like she was simply blind drunk. Yet the cause of her extreme behaviour - which was entirely out of character - was not drink, but the 'date rape' drug GHB. Forensic tests proved that it was present in her body at high levels. During her night out, Kerr's drink had been spiked by someone unknown who, in the judge's chilling words, "probably intended to commit more serious crimes against you".

I find it remarkable that Eireann Kerr was found guilty, even though the court acknowledged she had been poisoned with a dangerous drug and not in control of her own mind and body. Apparently, involuntary intoxication is not a defence, in law, against a criminal charge. And so she was issued with a conditional discharge for two months. The judge knew that the implications were severe, observing that "any sanction which falls on you in this court will be felt more heavily outside of this court".

We're talking small crimes, small punishments. But they leave Kerr contemplating the potential ruin of her whole livelihood. Let's be in no doubt, she is the victim here. The experience left her disoriented, covered in bruises and "completely traumatised". Why should she be forced to pay such a horrendous price, when the twisted pervert who put the drug in her drink in the first place gets off free? How is that justice?

This goes far beyond the loss of one person's career. As taxpayers, we helped to fund the long, complex years of Dr Kerr's training. We invested in her, every step of the way. Now she is performing a vital, highly-specialised service. If the General Medical Council decides to remove her from the register as a result of this conviction, it will not only be unfairly stripping Dr Kerr of her job, but throwing away the sizeable state investment that allowed her to reach that level of expertise. That's a bad deal, not just for the doctor in question, but for the public at large.

According to the GMC, "some doctors are not allowed back to work because their actions are so serious that they undermine public confidence in the profession". This doesn't apply to Eireann Kerr, because she cannot be held accountable for her actions, as the court agreed.

What's more, we hear a lot about the endless 'brain drain' of talented students who leave Northern Ireland every year to study across the water and then never come back. Kerr is one of the young people who, having qualified, actually chose to stay and practise in her own home country. And what is her thanks for that? Getting drugged by an aspiring sex offender, then being forced to take the rap for it, to devastating effect.

In one way, and one way only, Kerr is lucky. Despite the horrible events of that night in December 2013 - which ended when she woke up in a police cell, without a clue where she was or what had happened to her - she was not assaulted. We do not know the exact intention of the assailant who poisoned her drink, but it's safe to assume someone has evil ideas in mind when they try to render a woman comatose.

Eireann Kerr was convicted because the court did not have a choice. The General Medical Council, on the other hand, does. It can stick to the crude facts of this case and impose a punishment on that basis.

Or it can act to support a young medic whose current predicament is no fault of her own.

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