Leading vet who fabricated Home Office letter is struck off

  • The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons disciplinary committee has announced its findings on charges against Sue Dyson. H&H finds out more

    DR SUE DYSON said she has no recollection of writing a letter that led to her being struck off the veterinary register, stating she would never knowingly behave dishonestly.

    The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) disciplinary committee found that Dr Dyson was guilty of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect, after a hearing on 9 July.

    The former head of clinical orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) was charged in relation to correspondence about a study she led into the effects of excess rider weight on horses.

    The committee heard the study paper was sent to a journal for publication. Editor Karen Overall sent it to be peer-reviewed by Matthew Parker, who returned it to the authors for revision as he was concerned by the lack of a Home Office licence.

    Some research involving animals must have such licences, to protect animals, but the AHT’s clinical research ethics committee had not seen this project as of experimental nature, so had not advised that it should be referred to a Home Office inspector.

    Ms Overall sent Dr Parker’s comments to paper co-author Andrew Hemmings, and Dr Dyson replied to say a former Home Office inspector was on the AHT ethical committee, and two current licence holders, who all agreed with advice Dr Dyson had sought from a current inspector, that Home Office approval was not needed.

    Ms Overall replied to ask for a letter from the Home Office, to which Dr Dyson replied with a letter signed by a “Dr JC Butler”, stating that he/she was a Home Office inspector whose advice had been sought on the project by Dr Dyson, and whose opinion was that a Home Office licence was not needed.

    Dr Parker investigated and was told the Home Office had no record of employing a Dr JC Butler as an inspector.

    Dr Dyson later wrote to the Home Office: “I do not know what drove me to send Dr J Butler’s letter. It is a decision I will eternally regret.

    “I am an inherently honest person and I have questioned this every day. I was under a huge amount of pressure. One of our dogs had to be humanely destroyed. Work pressure was enormous, with huge economic targets for the clinic and a somewhat uncertain future… I can only claim temporary insanity, based on mitigating circumstances.”

    Dr Dyson added that the team was “astonished” to hear it was considered that Home Office licensing was needed, but that she was “fully aware that I acted completely inappropriately”. “My normal logical, careful, rational self who works strictly by the rule book, taking no risks, seemed to have temporarily disappeared… I humbly ask that this act of madness could be overlooked.”

    Evidence relating to Dr Dyson’s health was heard in private, but correspondence in which she spoke of her “extreme remorse, guilt and regret”, and the incident occurring while she was in a “complete mental fog” was submitted.

    She told the committee: “I fully appreciate the importance of regulation of research, and that the fabricated letter could have the effect of undermining the system of such regulation and I deeply regret this… I would never knowingly have done anything to tarnish the reputation of the AHT or the veterinary profession.”

    She added: “When learning of the letter, I was deeply shocked and distraught. I could not understand how I could possibly have written such a letter, a situation which was in itself is extremely frightening.

    “It was only when, several months later, I sought counselling for my ongoing distress that I began to be aware that there may be a psychological explanation for these seemingly reconcilable facts – in other words, an explanation of how I could have written the letter without at the time being dishonest or having any intention to mislead.”

    The committee report states that members took into account that there was no harm or risk of harm to animal or human, Dr Dyson’s previous good character and “long, distinguished and unblemished career”. They also noted pressures that may have affected her behaviour, the “significant number of positive references and testimonials” – noting that the testimonials provided were “universally positive and demonstrated that Dr Dyson had acted completely out of character” – and  her “lifelong commitment to equine welfare and the veterinary profession”.

    But the committee also found Dr Dyson’s evidence “lacked credibility and was not reliable”, and felt she “exhibited a complete lack of humility and failed to demonstrate any genuine remorse or insight into her predicament”. Members also found that although it was out of character, she had knowingly acted dishonestly.

    In sanctioning, the committee took in aggravating factors including breach of trust, Dr Dyson’s position and “blatant and wilful disregard for the systems that regulate the veterinary profession and animal experimentation and are designed to protect and promote the welfare of animals”.

    “The committee determined that it was important that a clear message be sent that this sort of behaviour is wholly inappropriate and not to be tolerated,” the report states. “It brings discredit upon Dr Dyson and discredit upon the profession.”

    Dr Dyson had 28 days to appeal the decision.

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