A Spanish GP is suing the Daily Mail for £200,000 after claiming that his professional reputation was damaged by an ‘unfair’ and ‘dishonest’ article by one of its columnists.
Dr Jose Antonio Serrano Garcia said an article by former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie was ‘unfair, insulting, oppressive and dishonest’, and caused him to take a more junior role in a different practice as he no longer felt confident or competent to continue in his own role.
London’s High Court heard that Mr Mackenzie wrote the article, headlined ‘A whole year of hell, thanks to a foreign doctor’, in the Daily Mail in April 2012.
He criticised Dr Serrano for his treatment of bus driver Kevin Jones – who had his driving licence taken away after the Hastings-based GP referred him to the DVLA over his alcohol consumption.
In it, Mr MacKenzie described how further tests revealed Mr Jones was not alcohol dependent and his licence was returned after a year, and also suggested that a ‘language barrier’ between doctor and patient resulted in a misdiagnosis.
Dr Serrano, 45, now seeks damages for libel from the paper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers Ltd over the claims that he did not listen to or understand his patient.
He says its publication caused him to lose confidence, which persuaded him to move from his practice in Hastings to a more junior role at a surgery in Bexhill-on-Sea.
Associated Newspapers is vigorously defending the claim, arguing the article was ‘true or substantially true’, as the doctor’s report to the DVLA was ‘inappropriate and unnecessary’.
The publisher also contends that some of the words used in the article were ‘honest comment’ and that Mr MacKenzie acted ‘in good faith’ based on the information he obtained through research.
Mr Justice Dingemans, hearing the case, was told Dr Serrano was based at the Roebuck House Practice, in Hastings, from 2002 onwards, after moving to the UK in 1995.
The GP saw Mr Jones at the Little Ridge Surgery, in St Leonards-on-Sea, in January 2011, when the 54-year-old bus driver complained of a painful swollen foot.
The court heard the consultation was a ‘difficult one for both doctor and patient’ and that what actually happened during it is subject to dispute between Dr Serrano and Associated Newspapers.
However, following the meeting, the doctor wrote to the DVLA indicating concern about Mr Jones’ alcohol consumption, which led to his licence being taken from him and the loss of his job.
Following further tests in October the same year, Mr Jones, of Pentland Close, St Leonards-on-Sea, was given his licence back and reinstated as a bus driver.
The events formed the subject of what Mr MacKenzie wrote and Dr Serrano’s case is that the article was ‘dishonestly published, with a reckless disregard for the truth’, to provide a further story on the columnist’s ‘xenophobic theme of foreign doctors’.
The GP’s barrister, Ronald Thwaites QC, told the court that the article suggested the doctor either didn’t understand or didn’t listen to what his patient told him about his drinking, which was a ‘shocking’ attack on his professional reputation.
Mr Thwaites added: ‘These criticisms strike at the root of a man’s profession and he is being attacked on these matters.’
The doctor says the article’s publication had ‘distressing consequences’, as he no longer felt competent or confident to continue at the Roebuck Practice, instead moving to a more junior level – on lower pay – at a surgery in Bexhill.
The hearing, expected to last several days, continues.