An equine vet who assaulted his girlfriend and her son, and attempted to inject a local anaesthetic used for horses into her eyelid, has been suspended for six months.

Richard Sutcliffe, who worked in an equine veterinary practice in Harrogate, was found to be guilty of serious professional misconduct, by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ disciplinary committee, on 14 November.

Sutcliffe had admitted two charges against him: one related to two counts of common assault, against his girlfriend and her son, on 3 December 2016, of which he was convicted at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court in April 2017.

The second concerned Sutcliffe’s attempting to undertake non-emergency surgery on his girlfriend’s eyelid, and administering or attempting to administer a prescription-only medicine.

The vet admitted both charges, although he denied a third charge, of supplying a prescription-only medicine to his girlfriend in August 2016. This charge was dismissed.

The disciplinary panel heard Sutcliffe’s girlfriend had developed a lump on her lower eyelid and was due to have it surgically removed, and that in late summer 2015, it was agreed that he could operate to remove it.

She and Sutcliffe disagreed on whose idea it was for him to attempt the procedure, but he admitted he intended to inject the base of the lump, although he did not do so, with mepivacaine hydrochloride, which is used for nerve-blocking and epidural anaesthesia in horses.

The panel also heard that in December 2016, Sutcliffe assaulted his girlfriend and her then-13-year-old son, at his home, in which his girlfriend and her two children lived. Her eight-year-old daughter was present at the time of the assaults.

Sutcliffe was found guilty in court of two charges of assault, having knocked his girlfriend over, grabbed her neck and banged her head against the floor. He then grabbed her son, pushed him against a wall and banged his head against it.

The panel also heard that during the seven-hour incident, Sutcliffe threatened to set the house on fire, smashed the son’s computer and turned off the power so the children and their mother were in darkness.

Sutcliffe admitted the criminal convictions rendered him unfit to practise, and that his conduct in the 2015 incident “amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect”.

Isolated incident

In mitigation, the panel considered that Sutcliffe had recognised the seriousness of the charges, and made “appropriate admissions”, that the assault was an isolated incident and the attempted procedure consensual, with no harm caused to his partner.

“Apart from the events charged, the respondent is of unblemished good character,” the report said, adding that neither charge had any connection with Sutcliffe’s veterinary practice, and did not affect client or animal welfare.

The committee had also heard evidence from four character witnesses, one the vet’s ex-wife who said she had never seen any violent, bullying or controlling behaviour during her four-year relationship with him, and that the incidents were “entirely out of character”. The other witnesses expressed “similar sentiments”, and the panel read 46 written testimonials from clients and colleagues of Sutcliffe, which “all speak with one voice”.

“Their knowledge of the respondent leads them to say that he is a highly skilled and well respected veterinary surgeon and that the events with which he has been charged are entirely out of character,” the report said.

Committee chairman Professor Alistair Barr added: “As recognised by the committee, the respondent has displayed insight as to the seriousness of his behaviour. Having regard to the evidence of all the character witnesses and the written testimonials, the committee accepts that the respondent’s conduct was wholly out of character and, therefore, there is no significant risk of repeat behaviour.

“The committee considers that the respondent would be fit to return to practise, having regard to his excellent track record as a veterinary surgeon to date, after any period of suspension.

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“Having regards to the aggravating and mitigating factors in this case, the committee has decided that it is sufficient to maintain public confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct to give a direction for suspension of the respondent’s name from the register of veterinary surgeons.

“The committee considers that the period of suspension must be sufficient to mark the seriousness of the charges but must be proportionate and fair in the circumstances of the case. The committee has therefore concluded that the appropriate period of suspension is six months.”

Sutcliffe has 28 days from being informed of the decision to appeal.

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