PROPER medical purpose.
Doctor Jeremy Coleman’s year-long sexual and indecent assault trial – the longest criminal trial in Newcastle’s history – turned on those three words.
And so when he was sensationally found not guilty of 50 sexual and indecent assault charges – alleged to have been committed on patients at his Watt Street practice – it must have been because the jury believed that Dr Coleman’s purpose for touching or examining those patients was not a sexual one, but a medical one.
The jury delivered their verdicts sporadically; 36 acquittals came down on August 3, 10 more on August 23 and two more on August 29, the Newcastle Herald can now reveal.
Judge Penny Hock had given directed verdicts of not guilty to the jury in relation to two counts relating to one complainant at the conclusion of the prosecution case in March.
That totaled 50 acquittals of the 66 charges Dr Coleman faced.
But after deliberating for 36 days, the jury were deadlocked on the remaining 16 counts. Three jurors gave evidence that it was unlikely that they would be able to reach a unanimous or majority verdict on the remaining charges and on Monday, nearly a year to the day after it began, Judge Hock brought the trial to an end.
But the sudden halt in the proceedings will not be the end for Dr Coleman – those remaining 16 charges were referred back to Newcastle District Court on October 25, when he will likely get another trial date next year.
His barrister, Pauline David, indicated the defence would make an application for a costs order, which would be heard by Judge Hock at a later date.
A conservative estimate of Dr Coleman’s defence runs into the millions of dollars.
“Today Dr Coleman has been found not guilty of 50 counts on the indictment,” Ms David said outside court.
There has been no findings of guilt against him. He leaves this court as he walked in and that is an innocent man. Dr Coleman has maintained his innocence from the outset. He has said that every examination he has done is for a proper medical purpose. And that doctors commonly conduct these clinically indicated examinations every day. They are common.”
When asked about the 12-month trial, the well-known Newcastle doctor was guarded.
“Very long,” he said.
“Very arduous. But the results have been wonderful.”
Asked if the 50 not guilty verdicts were a win for him personally, Dr Coleman replied: “It's a win for medicine”.
Dr Coleman, 64, a general physician, allergy and immunology specialist who has seen more than 40,000 patients and conducted more than 150,000 consultations during his career, had pleaded not guilty to 66 counts of sexual and indecent assault against 46 female patients between 1989 and 2013.
The trial began on August 30, 2017, with Crown Prosecutor Paul Marr outlining the allegations against Dr Coleman and telling the jury the issue would be whether or not he had a “proper medical purpose” to conduct the internal and external examinations.
It was a phrase repeated hundreds of times during the course of the trial and, for the most part, must have been the issue that determined the 50 not guilty verdicts.
The doctor's defence, led by Ms David, had said repeatedly that Dr Coleman's only purpose for examining or touching any of his patients was a medical one.
"He is a highly trained and highly capable medical doctor," Ms David said.
“It was his job to examine them, it was his job to touch them."
If the examination took place there was a medical reason for it, the defence said. But for some allegations, Dr Coleman denied the examinations took place or disagreed the consultations occurred the way the women claimed.
And ultimately, after sitting through about nine months of evidence, including testimony from dozens of women who said they went to Dr Coleman for help and were sexually or indecently assaulted – much of which was before a closed court – and a marathon of complex medical evidence from experts, then about a month of closing submissions – a period longer than the average trial – and, after deliberating for 36 days, the jury were discharged.
DEFENCE SCATHING OF MEDIA, POLICE
AS the dust settled on his sensational acquittal on 50 sexual and indecent assault charges on Monday, Dr Jeremy Coleman’s legal team released a statement, excoriating the police and the media for their handling of the case.
The statement, foreshadowed by barrister Pauline David after the jury was discharged, in many ways mirrors the defence closing argument during the trial that a “highly charged and highly inflammatory” atmosphere of public hysteria orchestrated by police and the media was the catalyst for so many women coming forward to make allegations of sexual and indecent assault against Dr Coleman.
“While the jury has restored some of Dr Coleman’s faith in the legal system, this case highlights what occurs when the fundamental pillar of our justice system – innocent until proven guilty – is cast aside by those investigating and by the media,” the statement says.
“Dr Coleman was not given the presumption of innocence by either the police or the media. He has been put through an ordeal he should never have been put through, simply for doing his job thoroughly, and for a proper purpose.”
The defence say the police failed to understand the nature of Dr Coleman’s medical training and wrongly implied he was undertaking examinations outside his scope of expertise. They said the “presumption of guilt”, taken by police, led to a huge amount of public resources being spent on the trial. “Dr Coleman is an innocent man, who cannot turn back the clock and immediately return to the position he was in two years ago, when he was a highly-respected medical practitioner with a thriving practice.”