Belfast Telegraph

Rebecca case: doctor admits she may have misled police

By Victoria O'Hara

A doctor has admitted it may “have been a possibility” that she was protecting her own professional reputation by withholding information about an examination she carried out on a severely disabled child days before she died, a court has heard.

For 11 years, GP Mary Donnelly did not tell anyone investigating the death of Rebecca McKeown the full details of an internal examination she carried out after being called to her Newtownabbey home by her mother.

Rebecca, who was registered blind and suffered from a number of medical conditions including cerebral palsy, scoliosis of the spine and severe epilepsy, died in hospital in March 2001, five days after she had been looked after by her grandparents.

David and Sarah Johnston, from Carwood Drive in Glengormley, are accused of killing her.

Rebecca died after contracting pneumonia which came as a direct result of an alleged sexual assault.

Mr Johnston (88), and his 86-year-old wife deny the charges.

Ms Donnelly was working as an out-of-hours locum GP when she was called to examine Rebecca on March 19, 2001.

Her mother Cheryl McKeown had contacted the doctor after discovering blood in her daughter’s nappy.

Ms Donnelly had previously told the court that she had removed a blood clot from the teenager but yesterday explained how during an examination her fingers had “unintentionally” slipped inside Rebecca.

Under cross-examination by defence QC Gavan Duffy at Belfast Crown Court, she agreed that that level of detail was not in her original statement on March 20, 2001.

Within 24 hours of examining Rebecca, police contacted her to provide a statement.

She said, however, that she had always been “concerned” by the statement she had given.

But any additional information was not given during the police investigation, an inquest in 2003 or a medical review into her death.

A letter written by the GP and read in court revealed she was “anxious” about the care she gave.

She had also at the time obtained legal advice from the Medical Defence Union but yesterday refused to waive her legal privilege to tell the court what her lawyers told her.

Ms Donnelly later agreed with Mr Duffy that her response to a medical review into the incident was “a million miles from being clear, candid and complete”.

During the court case yesterday, when asked if police investigating the case could have been misled by her original statement, she replied: “Yes.”

Asked in court: “Is this a case of protecting your own interests?”

And after being pressed to respond to the question by Judge Mr Justice McLaughlin, she replied: “It might have been, yes.”

The case continues.

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