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Armagh GP acquitted of multiple sex charges will not face a third trial

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Dr Tony Chee at an earlier appearance in Banbridge Magistrates Court

Dr Tony Chee at an earlier appearance in Banbridge Magistrates Court

Dr Tony Chee at an earlier appearance in Banbridge Magistrates Court

A doctor acquitted of multiple sexual offences involving female patients will not stand trial for other matters on which a jury was unable to reach a verdict.

While the judgment was delivered on May 19, nothing could be published as the case remained under a reporting restriction that had been initially imposed to ensure a fair trial.

Such orders fall at the conclusion of the case but enquiries revealed in this instance, it had been retained.

Following a challenge from the Press it has since been removed.

Dr Tony Chee (51) of Danesfort, Moira, was charged after a number of women made complaints while he was working as a GP in Armagh between 2009 and 2011.

Each claimed they were sexually assaulted while the doctor carried out intimate examinations.

The case reached Armagh Magistrates Court in 2014 when Dr Chee faced eight charges, but after this was published in the media, more women came forward with allegations.

By the time the case was transferred to the Crown Court in 2016, Dr Chee faced 26 charges, involving 19 complainants.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges, maintaining this position throughout.

Defence lawyers successfully applied to split the cases, with the first trial covering 11 counts involving seven complainants who reported allegations directly to police.

Reporting restrictions were imposed at this stage to ensure fairness in the second trial.

In May 2018, after a 16-day trial, Dr Chee was cleared on all counts, with the jury deliberating for just over an hour.

The remaining 13 allegations were heard at a separate trial which related to complaints made after the publication of the first matters and following a public appeal by police.

As the case opened in February 2020, no evidence was offered in respect of one complainant.

After a 20-day trial, Dr Chee was found not guilty on seven further counts, but the jury was unable to reach verdicts on the remaining allegations.

The prosecution applied for a retrial, but defence lawyers challenged this asserting it amounted to abuse of process.

The matter was heard by Judge David McFarland QC in Belfast Crown Court.

He referred to the seriousness of allegations of this nature against a medical practitioner as they involved complaints of sexual assaults carried out during purported medical examinations.

Judge McFarland acknowledged there was delay, with the first instances of alleged inappropriate examinations reported to police in 2011.

Dr Chee was interviewed in November 2013, then again in August 2014 when he was formally charged.

He was then interviewed on the second set of allegations in May 2015 and the charges were conjoined.

Judge McFarland found "no evidence of any specific prejudice or unfairness arising from the delay (but) it is a relevant factor".

"Delay is not insignificant in this matter," he said.

"By the date of any retrial it will have been six years since first charge on the first set of allegations.

"As a stand-alone factor it would not be sufficient to merit a stay as an abuse of process, but it is a factor that must be taken into any overall assessment."

As to the complaints, it was noted Dr Chee "remembers little if anything about the alleged incidents. Some evidence from his clinical notes is available although of limited value".

In both trials, the prosecution argued that the examinations were carried out, at least in part, to obtain sexual gratification.

Expert medical evidence found Dr Chee's examination procedures were outdated.

"There was no privacy curtain at one of the surgeries, the examinations were carried out without a chaperone, and there was a deficiency in note taking," the court was told.

It was however accepted when Dr Chee trained in the 1990s, examinations of this nature would have been routine.

Having considered the matter in depth, Judge McFarland ruled: "I consider the defendant could not receive a fair trial by virtue of the relevance of the two sets of earlier acquittals, and it would be unfair to try him for a third time, by virtue of the nature of the case against him and the decisions made by the earlier juries."

Halting proceedings at this point, Judge McFarland ruled: "The remaining five counts will therefore be stayed as an abuse of the court's process."

The reporting restriction would normally have been removed at this point, but it stayed in place.

The Press challenged this through the Office of the Lord Chief Justice.

Initially told the case had concluded and the order was remaining, an invitation was made to the Press to file a submission setting out why it should be removed.

Following further discussions, the judge then removed the order.

According to the General Medical Council register, as of May 21, Dr Chee remains suspended from practice.

Belfast Telegraph