Dr Hugh O’Neill, 64, was jailed in January 2015 for 12 years for two rapes and three counts of gross indecency. O’ Neil was Norfolk’s police surgeon and medical adviser between 1991 and 2003 and had been a GP for 37 years. O’Neill admitted two counts of rape and one count of gross indecency against one victim and two counts of gross indecency against a second victim in December 2014. 12 months later he was told to serve three more years after admitting to sexually assaulting 13 police officers, in crimes stretching back to 1993.
Norwich Crown Court heard how O’Neil used his authority to abuse his victims. One of the victims has spoken out for the first time after the conviction. “He realised that we were a very vulnerable group of women. It is a situation where he has you over a barrel.” New recruits in 1993 had to attend a medical examination at O’Neill’s practice at Horsford Medical Centre to ensure they were fit for service. “I couldn’t afford for him to turn around and say I am medically unfit. I desperately wanted my job. I think he knew that.” O’Neill began to grope the victim during the examination and when she challenged him he claimed he had been checking her spleen for alcohol abuse. “He was indecently assaulting us in plain sight.”
Lee Walker, a former detective with Norfolk Constabulary drug squad in 1993, and currently a North Norfolk district councillor, said she received a phone call from a senior officer the night before her medical. “He said we have got a problem with O’Neill because allegations have been made about him being inappropriate. He said he wanted to give me the heads up in case anything happened”. Walker brought her partner as a chaperone and O’Neill did not behave inappropriately towards her.
Following his prosecution, Essex Police Serious Crime Directorate launched an investigation this year into Norfolk’s mishandling of allegations against O’Neill. It has found four senior officers responsible for the 1993 and 2002 investigations may have cases to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct. However, as they have all retired no action can be taken against them. Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey has confirmed 33 officers have to date made allegations against O’Neill and that the force has paid out a total of £269,500 in costs and settlements to victims. The investigation has found that a recommendation to launch a criminal investigation in 1993 against O’Neill was not acted on by the police. A Crown Prosecution Service review into potential criminal charges against senior officers was hindered because a key file has disappeared. The investigation has also found that senior officers tasked with investigating O’Neill in 1993 will not face criminal charges following the CPS review.
One of the victims said senior officers who failed to investigate the allegations in 1993 “should have O’Neill’s sexual assaults on their conscience. You have to ask the question – had police done something in 1993, would that have prevented him from doing what he did next?” she said.
In October 1993, four policewomen reported that O’Neill had acted inappropriately during their medical examinations. A month after the allegations an internal investigation into O’Neill ended abruptly, even though by that time eight allegations had been made. A serious sexual offences trained officer was assigned to make a report. Its conclusion read: “There are enough indicators to begin to treat this as a possible criminal case rather than simply a matter of poor practice.” But nothing happened. Officers were threatened to “keep quiet”, according to the victim. According to the CPS review, one witness said in a 2016 statement: “I was told in no uncertain terms that the matter was to go no further, it was not to be mentioned again, and any further comment could lead to Dr O’Neill suing the police.”
A chief superintendent and the deputy chief constable met with O’Neill in 1993 to discuss the allegations and the evidence. O’Neill was later sent a letter by the chief constable which expressed his regret for causing the doctor distress and said there was “no evidence to support any suggestion of improper behaviour” on his part. Another investigation was later launched in 2002, but still he was not prosecuted. O’Neill was able to continue in his role until being dismissed in 2003 after more victims came forward. It was not until 2014, when a victim of serious sexual assault came forward about the abuse she suffered, that O’Neill was convicted. The report from Essex Police has completed this year, but not been made public.
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