– A drug-addicted former doctor has pleaded guilty to infecting 55 women with Hepatitis C at an abortion clinic in Melbourne’s east.
In Victoria’s Supreme Court on Friday, former anaesthetist James Latham Peters pleaded guilty to 55 counts of negligently causing serious injury to the women by infecting them with the virus in 2008 and 2009.
Peters injected himself with pre-filled syringes of fentanyl – an opioid used in general anaesthesia – in theatre at Croydon Day Surgery, before administering the remaining drug to the patients as they underwent pregnancy terminations.
He was aware he had the virus for more than 10 years.
Several of his victims were in court and wept as all 55 counts – and each of their names and the dates he infected them – were read out during the hearing.
Justice Paul Coghlan described the victims in the case as “a group of the most highly innocent people you could ever come across” as he suppressed their names from publication.
Peters was suspended by the Medical Practitioners Board – in addition to being charged by police – several times over his drug use.
He admitted to the medical board in 1995 that he had abuse fentanyl and pethidine, obtained by forging prescriptions and also faced criminal charges, including several of failing to give notice that a patient was drug dependent and obtaining a drug of dependence by forging prescriptions.
He was convicted and received community-based orders and two months’ jail that was wholly suspended.
In July, 1996, he was also charged with multiple counts of aiding and abetting another person to forge a prescription for drugs, and for being in possession of a drug of dependence, using a drug of dependence and introducing a drug into the body of another. He was again convicted and released on a community-based order.
He was ordered to undergo assessment for a drug addiction, submit to medical, psychological and/or psychiatric treatment and be drug-tested as part of his conditions.
The medical board also suspended him but he returned to work at Box Hill Hospital in 1997..
He tested positive for hepatitis C – a disease that must be notified to the health department – the same year.
Then in December 2003, Peters admitted to taking fentanyl for his own use before he took long-service leave and was permitted to return to work at the Croydon Day Clinic a year later under conditions imposed by the medical board.
An Australian Medical Association audit of the Victorian Doctors Health Program – established to treat drug-addicted doctors – warned that Peter’s case “was clearly one of concern. There are major current stressors for this man and his relapse appears to have been the result of the death of his wife,” it said.
Peters was suspended by the medical board again in February 2010 after he was placed under investigation by detectives from Taskforce Clays, set up by Victoria Police to investigate how so many female patients at the clinic contracted the disease.
He pleaded guilty to having 113 images of child pornography on his computer and was sentenced in March 2010 to an 18-month community-based order. He was ordered to comply with supervision, treatment and assessment conditions.
Peters was bailed to appear at a pre-sentence plea hearing in February – Andrea Petrie