“Benjamin Geen is a former nurse convicted of murdering two patients and causing grievous bodily harm to 15 others in 2004 while working at Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire. He has maintained his innocence and statiticians have pointed to cicumstantial evidence as an example of poor reasoning about rare events.
Between December 2003 and February 2004, 18 or more patients suffered respiratory arrests and respiratory depressions while Ben Geen was on duty. While 16 patients recovered soon after, two patients died in January 2004: Anthony Bateman and David Onley. Geen was arrested on February 9, 2004, whereupon an empty syringe was found in his pocket. Later test indicated the presence of a muscle relaxant.
Geen claimed that he had accidentally taken the half-empty syringe home in his nurse’s scrubs’ pocket after a chaotic day in Emergency. His girlfriend, a nurse herself, doing the washing, said that she had found it and had told him he ought to return in to be disposed of properly.
The internal hospital investigation identified a total 27 cases that were to be scrutinised as being suspicious and that Geen could have been involved in. Nine were later discounted and Geen was acquitted of one other case which was found to be due to natural causes. However, the number of deaths that occurred while under Green’s care is statistically likely to have occurred.
During his trial, the Oxford Crown Court was told that Geen purposely used potentially lethal doses of drugs to cause patients to stop breathing because he enjoyed the thrill of resuscitating them. He was found guilty in April 2006, and given 17 life sentences. The trial judge recommended that he should spend at least 30 years in prison before being considered for parole. This recommendation is likely to keep him behind bars until at least 2035.
Geen’s case was reviewed by lawyers and volunteers from the London Innocence Project. The review found a number of flaws in the original trial, and lawyers came to the conclusion that Geen was “the victim of a major miscarriage of justice.”
A leading medical statistician, Prof Jane Hutton, submitted a report arguing that the Crown’s central evidence – that there had been an ‘unusual’ pattern of illnesses – was of ‘no value’ because no statistical modelling had been done to show that the pattern was unusual. She found the ‘pattern’ method to be at grave risk of bias.
Dr Mark Heath, a consultant anaesthesiologist who has testified in US supreme court cases, argued in another report that the pattern of patient collapses was inconsistent with the drugs Geen was said to have injected in seven cases. Rather than passing out, patients injected with muscle relaxants as the crown stated would be paralysed, unable to breathe but totally conscious and terrified.
Other medical experts pointed out that the likely cause of death in the case of Mr Onley, a gravely ill patient whom Geen was alleged to have killed, was not a heart attack triggered by respiratory arrest but liver failure caused by the patient’s alcoholism, unknown to the hospital when he was admitted to Emergency.
Mark McDonald, Geen’s barrister, and founder and chair of the London Innocence Project, has stated that he believes the case against Geen was the product of a “witch-hunt” in a health service terrified of a repeat of the case of Dr Harold Shipman.”
The US statistics site FiveThirtyEight looked into Ben’s story for their podcast, ‘What’s the Point’:
You can learn more here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-data-detective-story-did-a-british-nurse-kill-his-patients/
Justice for Ben Geen: https://bengeen.wordpress.com/