A Spanish doctor based in Hastings is suing the Daily Mail for damages over a “vicious accusation” made by former columnist Kelvin MacKenzie.
Ex-Sun editor MacKenzie, who was axed as a Telegraph columnist after one article last week, wrote in April 2012 that a misdiagnosis by Dr Jose Antonio Serrano Garcia had led to “living hell” for a patient.
Telling the story of how bus driver Kevin Jones had his driving licence taken away on the advice of Serrano, the article suggested there was a “language barrier” between doctor and patient.
Jones had gone to Serrano with swollen legs. The doctor diagnosed him with gout and suspected he was “alcohol dependent”.
MacKenzie wrote that further tests revealed Jones was not alcohol dependent. His licence was returned and he got his job back.
The article suggested Serrano had English language difficulties – the writ states – when, according to the claim, MacKenzie would have “strongly suspected” this was not true.
A claim form seen by Press Gazette said: “It is to be inferred that Mr MacKenzie published the article with an irresponsible and insulting disregard for the reputation and feelings of [Serrano], being more determined to publish another follow-up story on his xenophobic theme of ‘foreign doctors’ then concerned with publishing a story that was either true or fair.”
It also said MacKenzie described the patient’s local MP as “appalled” while Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, claims not to have given a view or comment (again, according to the High Court claim form).
According to Taylor Hampton, representing Serrano, the article inferred the doctor is “a particularly shocking example of foreign doctors”.
It said the column was “seriously defamatory, extremely insulting and potentially gravely damaging”.
The claim form said that MacKenzie made no attempt himself to contact Serrano, instead getting his “agent”, journalist Charles Rae, to contact the doctor – giving him 24 hours to respond.
Serrano accused Rae of trying to “bully” and “harass” him into responding when it would have breached patient confidentiality for him to respond without consent.
The paper faxed through consent from Jones but Serrano said he did not feel he could fully trust the document.
According to the writ, though, Serrano had made it clear that he disputed the facts of the story.
Serrano claimed that his judgement was backed up by “other evidence from other doctors and a specialist” and that the Mail did not have all the facts.
According to the writ, Serrano did provide a response through the Medical Protection Society “shortly after” the deadline – noon on the day before publication – but claimed it was “suppressed”.
Serrano had said “he could not comment in detail on the patient’s case for reasons of patient confidentiality but that, where there was a risk to the public, he had a professional obligation to take appropriate action”. The newspaper has since claimed that the response “amounted to ‘No comment’”.
After receiving a complaint on behalf of Serrano from the Medical Protection Society, Associated Newspapers claimed that Serrano had not been asked to reveal confidential information in responding to MacKenzie, he didn’t make clear he was disputing the facts of the story and accused the doctor of “delaying tactics”.
The Daily Mail told Press Gazette it is contesting the claim.