Sunday, June 01, 2008


Bega Butcher warnings ignored

By Clair Weaver, Sun Herald.

June 01, 2008 12:00am

CONFIDENTIAL records have revealed for the first time the full extent of the disturbing mental state of Dr Graeme Reeves, the so-called Butcher of Bega.

The records, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, detail warning signs detected by his psychiatrist - and submitted in evidence to the NSW Medical Tribunal in 2004, when Reeves was struck off.

These included paranoia, insomnia, uncontrolled anger and aggression, inability to handle criticism and an eating disorder that saw his weight blow out to 106kg and plummet to a skeletal 59kg.

The former doctor admitted he had difficulty "tolerating'' midwives and accused pregnant patients of "emotional blackmail''.

He was "frightened'' of criticism, knew people called him paranoid and refused to confide in colleagues because he feared "malicious rumours'', his records reveal.

The unprecedented insight into Reeves' personality emerges four days after the NSW Government released a report by retired Federal Court Judge Deirdre O'Connor, which exposed a series of bureaucratic failures that allowed the former doctor to escape detection by NSW authorities for almost 20 years.

The report revealed that health authorities knew of problems with Reeves' background before he was hired.

This was despite Health Minister Reba Meagher twice telling parliament that no background checks were done on the rogue doctor, before he was employed as an obstetrician at two South Coast hospitals in 2002.

The Opposition says Ms Meagher, now holidaying overseas, should apologise for misleading parliament.

In a series of reports to the NSW Medical Board from 1996-98, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, psychiatrist Dr John Woodforde told how Reeves had ``unresolved problems'' in his relationship with his late father.

"His father was an army officer and Dr Reeves was a medical student at that time and was a conscientious objector to conscription during the Vietnam War,'' Dr Woodforde wrote.

His father then died of a heart attack in Reeves' arms in 1972, according to the notes.

The disgraced doctor later formed friendships with a "surrogate'' father figure and felt "hurt and rejected'' when he wouldn't accompany him to a disciplinary hearing with the Medical Board, according to a later report by psychiatrist Dr Anthony Samuels.

Reeves refused to take a holiday for two years, accumulated leave and often worked weekends.

"He becomes anxious, if he is not directly in charge,'' the notes say.

Dr Woodforde revealed that Reeves experienced massive weight fluctuations from binge-eating.

When his weight fell to 59kg in 1995, he was ``happy not to eat and ceased eating meals'', was "exercising and attending a gymnasium, not like his usual self'', but didn't feel he had a problem.

After going on a ``total fat exclusion diet'', he realised he had a major eating disorder. By 2004, he was overweight again.

According to records, Reeves slept two or three hours a night and would pace around, read or lie awake thinking.

Dr Samuels reported that Reeves felt "actively suicidal" when he first consulted psychiatrist Dr Stella Dalton, who prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft - first at 50mg and later a dose of 100mg.

He would "express anger openly to colleagues'', according to notes.

When Northern Sydney Area Health Service recommended counselling, he refused to see a psychiatrist as he feared it would become ``public knowledge''.

"I suggested to him that the consequences of not taking action to resolve the issues satisfactorily might have some more serious consequences for his career,'' Dr Woodforde wrote.

He said Reeves' behaviour suggested "troublesome personality traits'', including a rigid, over-conscientious devotion to work and extreme sensitivity to criticism - but said there was no evidence of psychiatric illness.

Reeves had "severe visual problems'' from several eye conditions, exacerbated by "out of control diabetes'', and required surgery.

Meanwhile, dozens of alleged victims of Dr Reeves are being advised not to speak to police.

Legal firm Brydens is instructing clients, who are being represented on a "no-win, no-fee'' basis, to give their evidence to lawyers instead.

Solicitors will act as intermediaries for women pursuing civil claims with the State Government for medical negligence.

They will provide police, who are conducting a criminal investigation into the disgraced former obstetrician and gynaecologist, with pre-recorded personal statements and medical records on behalf of their clients, if necessary.

Brydens' senior solicitor Christianne Etienne, who is co-ordinating the firm's Reeves compensation cases, said the Government was expected to suspend the Civil Liability Act, which would otherwise render many victims' cases expired.

"If there are serious allegations or serious inquiries, the police might seek directly - but at this stage we are acting as intermediaries,'' she said.

"We put together their statements and submit them to relevant bodies, including the Health Care Complaints Commission.''

She said clients would need medical and psychological assessments to determine damage.
Children delivered by Reeves, who is alleged to have yanked newborns from their mothers' wombs, may also be examined.

Brydens has clients from the Bega Valley, Baulkham Hills and other areas of NSW on its books, with cases dating back to 1997.

Keddies Lawyers, which has had 70 inquiries from former Reeves patients, is also pursuing civil cases for at least 40 cases.