Dr John Gill granted retrial in Scientology book defamation case

Ryan YoungNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

A doctor who performed a discredited therapy on mentally ill patients at a Sydney hospital has been granted a retrial after a judge was found to have made errors when she dismissed a defamation case against a high-profile journalist and book publisher.

Steve Cannane’s book, Fair Game: The Untold Story of Scientology, included a chapter that focused on the religion’s role in exposing the notorious Chelmsford Hospital deep sleep therapy (DST) scandal in the 1960s and ’70s.

The cover of Fair Game: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia by Steve Cannane.
Camera IconThe cover of Fair Game: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia by Steve Cannane. Credit: Supplied
Brisbane News Books Steve
Camera IconSteve Cannane said he was not confident the doctors would truthfully answer questions. Chris McCormack Credit: News Corp Australia

The book, published by Harper Collins, mentioned the late John Herron, a psychiatrist who worked at Chelmsford and was deregistered as a doctor in the late 1990s.

Dr John Gill, a general practitioner who was the de facto medical superintendent and a part-owner of Chelmsford, was also mentioned in the book.

Their pair sued Mr Cannane and Harper Collins for defamation in 2017, claiming the book contained defamatory imputations about their roles in the administration of DST – a treatment regimen in which patients were given high doses of barbiturates, put in a state of unconsciousness for long periods, force fed through a tube, left incontinent and given electroconvulsive therapy.

Chelmsford Private Hospital. 20/12/90.
New South Wales (NSW) / Hospitals
Camera IconControversial treatments at the notorious Chelmsford Private Hospital led to the death of 24 people. Credit: News Corp Australia

After an eight-week, multimillion-dollar trial was held in 2020, Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot dismissed the case and said Mr Herron and Dr Gill were trying to “rewrite history”.

Justice Jagot found Mr Herron and Dr Gill had engaged in medical malpractice, been negligent and forged ahead with DST despite a growing number of deaths linked to the treatment.

Her decision was overturned on Friday by the full bench of the Federal Court after Dr Gill successfully appealed the initial verdict and was awarded costs.

The court was told that Justice Jagot made an error when she concluded Mr Herron and Dr Gill falsified death certificates and Mr Herron defrauded patients.

John Gill
Camera IconDr John Gill successfully appealed the initial verdict. Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

Justice Michael Wigney said Justice Jagot also made an error when she found that Mr Cannane acted reasonably.

“Mr Cannane made a conscious decision not to obtain and publish Mr Herron’s and Dr Gill’s response or side of the story,” Justice Wigney said.

“There was essentially no dispute that Mr Cannane was able to, but made no attempt to, contact Mr Herron and Dr Gill to obtain and publish their response to what was said about them in chapter 14 of Fair Game.”

The court was told that Mr Cannane, the ABC’s Europe bureau chief, said he had “zero confidence” that Mr Herron and Dr Gill’s response would be truthful, and the book relied on reports from a royal commission into Chelmsford.

Dr Gill said he welcomed the court’s latest decision and it marked another step in his “fight to seek justice”.

“I look forward to completing the next stage of the process and am deeply saddened that Dr Herron and his wife Margaret are not here to see it through,” Dr Gill said.

Harper Collins is a subsidiary of News Corp, the publisher of NCA NewsWire.

Originally published as Dr John Gill granted retrial in Scientology book defamation case

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