Indian 'Doctor Death' loses Australia appeal

SYDNEY, April 21, 2011 (AFP) - An Indian-born doctor jailed in Australia over fatally bungled surgeries lost an appeal against his conviction and sentence Thursday with a court saying his crimes could "hardly be more grave".

Dubbed "Doctor Death" by the local press, Jayant Patel was jailed for seven years last July after a jury found him guilty of criminal negligence resulting in the deaths of three patients and permanent injury to a fourth.

The deaths occurred during Patel's time at Queensland's Bundaberg Base Hospital between 2003 and 2004, and prosecutors successfully argued the operations were either unnecessary or inappropriate.

Patel, 60, was convicted of gross negligence in the United States prior to working in Australia but failed to disclose the finding to his employers.

He asked the Supreme Court appeals bench to quash his conviction and sentence -- of which he must serve just three-and-a-half years -- arguing that he did not receive a fair trial and that the jail term was too harsh.

Queensland's attorney-general launched a counter-appeal calling for the sentence to be increased.

Both bids were rejected by the Court of Appeal, which on Thursday upheld Patel's conviction and sentence.

"Serious medical criminal negligence like that of which the appellant has been convicted, is not easy to investigate or to prove. Its effect on its immediate victims could hardly be more grave," the court said.

"It had the potential to undermine the Queensland public’s confidence in its hospital system."

Though his crimes were severe the court said Patel's case also had "significant mitigating features" which made sentencing him a "novel and difficult exercise".

"It is plain that the time he spends in prison in Queensland will be particularly difficult for him because his family does not reside here and his notoriety will make prison life especially stressful," the court said.

"His professional career is in tatters. His reputation has been destroyed. He is now 60 years old and is unlikely to ever work again as a surgeon.

"In our view, the sentence imposed properly balances the exacerbating and mitigating features of this unique case."

Patel's victims and their families packed the court to hear the judgment and expressed relief that he would remain behind bars.

"We've had a harrowing time here over the years," Beryl Crosby, head of a support group for the surgeon's ex-patients, told reporters.

"It's always sweet when we win because we fought for so long."

Patel's lawyers said they would consider taking their case to the High Court -- their final legal avenue.

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