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Downfall of a police doctor: Questions remain as Norfolk GP Hugh O’Neill is jailed for another three years

PUBLISHED: 08:21 19 April 2016 | UPDATED: 13:48 19 April 2016

Hugh O'Neill

Hugh O'Neill

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How many more victims? How could this happen? Just two of the questions being demanded of police bosses today after a former force doctor was jailed for indecently assaulting 13 female officers and cadets over a 10 year period.

Norfolk Constabulary undated handout photo of GP and former police surgeon Dr Hugh Blaise O'Neill who has admitted further sex charges.  Norfolk Constabulary/PA Wire

NOTE TO EDITORS Norfolk Constabulary undated handout photo of GP and former police surgeon Dr Hugh Blaise O'Neill who has admitted further sex charges. Norfolk Constabulary/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS

Dr Hugh Blaise O’Neill, 63, was Norfolk police’s medical adviser between 1991 and 2003 and had been a “trusted and respected” member of the policing community where he was “part of the scenery”.

But he repeatedly breached that position of trust in using the “guise of legitimate medical practice” as a “smokescreen” to abuse his victims who knew that it was “essential to their career and future as a whole that they passed a medical”.

Norwich Crown Court heard that allegations about his conduct first emerged in 1993 but that little was done and he carried on abusing women in a “gross and repeated” breach of trust for a further nine years.

O’Neill left the force in 2003 after further allegations were made but that did not lead to any criminal action.

It was not until last year, when he was jailed for 12 years after admitting sex offences against two girls, that the complaints made by the officers were fully investigated.

Speaking outside court, Detective Superintendent Kathryn Thacker, who led the inquiry, said she cannot comment on the earlier investigations which are to be investigated by another constabulary after the Norfolk force referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

She said it was only after that probe was complete that it could be established whether opportunities were missed in the earlier investigations.

Det Supt Thacker said it would be up to the individuals themselves as to whether they pursued any legal claims against the force but insisted the victims would be updated about the current investigation and given “ongoing support”.

She also conceded there might yet be more victims and urged anyone who feels they might have been assaulted by O’Neill to contact a hotline set up by the force via 01603 276999.

O’Neill, formerly of Tasburgh, was yesterday jailed for a further three years by Judge Anthony Bate, who said: “You have shown no insight nor indeed a shred of remorse. You are a disgrace to an honourable profession.”

Kate Davey, prosecuting, said none of the acts on the victims, who were either serving officers, new recruits or cadets, formed legitimate medical procedure and were for his own sexual gratification.

Michael Clare, mitigating, said O’Neill continues to deny all matters “but has his own reasons for pleading guilty”.

That drew audible gasps from the public gallery where many of his victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, sat to attend the hearing.

Past investigations carried out - and failed

The disgraced police surgeon who has finally admitted indecently assaulting 13 officers and cadets over the course of a decade was previously investigated after allegations were made.

It was while working for Norfolk Constabulary, back in 2002/03, that O’Neill was suspended while the investigation into allegations made against him was carried out.

At the time O’Neill had been contracted to work for the force for about 15 years and continued working as a family doctor at Horsford while the allegations were probed.

Police did not reveal the exact nature of the allegations but in January 2003, O’Neill said: “We live in a world where we are all under scrutiny, whether we are doctors, solicitors, or teachers. It is the name of the game. You have got to expect it in our profession.”

Police officers’ anger

Former police officers have today told of their shock and anger after a former force surgeon and GP was sentenced for indecent assaults on ex colleagues.

O’Neill, who admitted indecently assaulting 13 officers and cadets over the course of a decade during his role with the force, was branded a “coward” by Mel Lacey, a retired police officer and former media manager.

Mr Lacey, 67, said: “I think men who do that are cowards and also when the person doing it is in a position of trust that makes it so much worse.

“You would expect a professional like him to be way above being involved in anything like that. He’s got himself in a position of trust and he’s abused it.”

Mr Lacey remembers O’Neill from his own policing days and said he found him “nothing more than you would expect” of a GP and police surgeon.

He said: “I do recall one or two female colleagues saying they were not sure they were totally comfortable with him but at that time I didn’t know any more than that. I never looked upon him as a predator of that type. It beggars belief.”

Another former police officer, who did not want to be named, said he was “shocked” at what has emerged but believes there might be more revelations to come in the case.

He said: “I’m sure there was more than one allegation in the 1990s. A number of allegations were made by police women.”

The former officer said as well as conducting medicals on officers he would also have done people who had been detained as well.

He said: “As a police surgeon he would have come out and not only done the new recruits and medicals but would’ve examined vulnerable people in custody.

“He would’ve been doing that as a police surgeon and it makes you wonder about that.”

He said he had been examined by O’Neill over the years and although thought there was something “odd” about him, was genuinely surprised.

“I had medicals with him. He was an odd kind of guy. He was quite into telling you how well qualified he was and at the forefront of this and the forefront of that.

“I never suspected that of him. It’s really shocking.”

The downfall of a doctor

The sentencing represents a further fall from grace for O’Neill whose conviction last year for sexual offences against young girls sent shockwaves through his local community.

The beginning of the end for O’Neill, who had been a GP for 37 years, working at Horsford Medical Centre, came after one of his now adult victims - who was not abused by O’Neill in connection with his work for the police - contacted police as a result of several high-profile sex abuse cases.

One of the victims said in a statement that she could no longer trust others and regarded the abuse as her “terrible secret”.

The other said she felt like she had been terrorised.

O’Neill admitted two counts of rape and one count of gross indecency against one victim and two counts of gross indecency against a second victim in December 2014.

In January last year he was sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison for the offences, which date from the early 1990s to 2000.

Jailing O’Neill Judge Anthony Bate said: “You are now a broken man - your disgrace is complete.”

O’Neill had been suspended from his duties by local NHS managers but has since been struck off the medical register and can no longer practice medicine.

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