GP 'deeply upset' by defamatory article

Credit: Press Association

A Hastings-based doctor accused of putting a patient through a year of "hell" has been awarded £45,000 libel damages by a High Court judge.

Spanish-born GP Jose Antonio Serrano Garcia, 44, sued over an April 2012 article in the Daily Mail, published under the heading, "A whole year of hell, thanks to a foreign doctor".

Spanish-born GP Jose Antonio Serrano Garcia, 44, sued over an April 2012 article in the Daily Mail, published under the heading, "A whole year of hell, thanks to a foreign doctor".

His action was hotly contested by publishers Associated Newspapers, but Mr Justice Dingemans, sitting in London, ruled in the doctor's favour today.

The judge said the article by former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie stated that a patient had been reported by Dr Serrano to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in respect of alcohol problems when there was no evidence to that effect.

The report to the DVLA followed a consultation between Dr Serrano and bus driver Kevin Jones at the Little Ridge Surgery, St Leonards-on-Sea, in January 2011, when Mr Jones went to see about pain from swollen legs.

His bus driving and personal licences were withdrawn by the DVLA, and he lost his job.

The licences were reinstated in early 2012, when a letter from the DVLA stated that "from the information we have received you satisfy the medical standards for safe driving". Mr Jones, 54, subsequently returned to work as a bus driver.

In April 2012 Mr Jones' father saw an article in the Daily Mail by Mr MacKenzie about foreign doctors working in the NHS, said the judge, adding: "Mr Jones read the article and thought what he considered to be his harsh treatment by Dr Serrano would be something Mr MacKenzie might be interested in.

The article was by former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie

"Mr Jones said that he thought that his experience was relevant because while Dr Serrano spoke good English it was clear to him that cultural differences, for example about sense of humour and a failure to listen properly, had played a big part in what had happened to him."

Mr Justice Dingemans said: "In my judgment the main sting of the article is that Dr Serrano reported Mr Jones to the DVLA and it was wrong and inappropriate to do so because: there was no evidence to show persistent abuse of alcohol by Mr Jones; Dr Serrano had, because of the language barrier, misunderstood Mr Jones' reports about his drinking, and because such a report was in breach of patient confidentiality."

But the judge found that there was "considerable evidence to justify Dr Serrano's actions", and it was "not wrong and inappropriate for Dr Serrano to write to the DVLA". There had not been a language barrier.

He said: "In my judgment Dr Serrano was not told at the consultation that Mr Jones might have a pint or two after work, and a couple of spirits if he went out with his wife at weekends.

"Dr Serrano was told that Mr Jones would drink half a bottle of Bacardi at night on some nights. Dr Serrano had not misunderstood that Mr Jones drank that amount every night, and his contemporaneous notes show that."

He ruled that the article had defamatory meanings which "cannot be justified", and that it "cannot be defended as honest comment".

He added: "Dr Serrano said his wife was upset by the article and he had been upset and ashamed by the anxiety and distress that she had been caused and that it was particularly hurtful and insulting to be attacked on the basis that he was a foreigner with an inadequate grasp of English when he'd been given no indication that any criticism of that kind was going to be made."

I am extremely pleased with the outcome of today's hearing. This article was irresponsible and should never have been written.

Dr Serrano