Suffolk-based vet to be removed from Register for dishonesty - Veterinary Practice
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Suffolk-based vet to be removed from Register for dishonesty

The RCVS has directed on 9 July 2021 that a Suffolk-based vet be removed from the Register of Veterinary Surgeons

The RCVS has directed on 9 July 2021 that a Suffolk-based
vet be removed from the Register of Veterinary Surgeons for undertaking a chain
of dishonest statements and actions, including fabricating a letter from a
fictitious Home Office Inspector, in order to have her research project
published in an international publication.

The hearing for Dr Sue Dyson FRCVS took place between 12 to
13 November 2020 and then 28 June to 9 July 2021 and considered allegations
involving her actions and conduct towards the end of 2018 in relation to a
research paper that she had co-authored.

At the outset of the hearing, Dr Dyson admitted that she
had written and sent the letter and that its contents were misleading and
risked undermining a Government system designed to promote animal welfare and
research ethics, but denied that her actions in doing so had been dishonest,
claiming she had amnesia. Dr Dyson also denied that she had made dishonest and
misleading remarks to colleagues in meetings and correspondence leading up to
the letter being sent.

The Disciplinary Committee heard that in 2018, Dr Dyson was
employed as Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust (AHT).
Having previously been given the go-ahead by the AHT’s Clinical Research Ethics
Committee for her research project “Influence of rider: horse body weight
ratios on equine welfare and performance – a pilot study”, Dr Dyson completed
the project in autumn 2018 and proposed to publish the results in the Journal of Veterinary
Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research

After peer-reviewing the project paper at the request of
Journal Editor Karen Overall, Dr Matthew Parker, a Senior Lecturer in
Behavioural Pharmacology at the University of Portsmouth, was concerned by the
lack of a Home Office licence and asked for details of the licence or an
explanation of why the project didn’t need one, and for the paper to be

In reply, Dr Dyson then emailed Ms Overall stating: “We
have a former Home Office Inspector on our AHT Ethical Committee and two current
licence holders (Named Veterinary Surgeons) who are fully conversant with the
current legislation… I also sought informal advice from a current Inspector.
All were fully aware of the protocols to be employed and gave me assurance that
in their opinion Home Office approval would not be required”. Ms Overall then
asked Dr Dyson to obtain a letter from the Home Office to support this

On 24 December 2018, Dr Dyson sent Ms Overall a letter
purportedly from a Home Office Inspector called Dr Butler who, she explained,
had advised her during the planning phase of the project. In the letter, the
fictitious Dr Butler confirmed that their advice was sought for the project and
that in their opinion, a Home Office Licence was not required.

Ms Overall then sent the “Dr Butler letter” to Dr Parker
for further review, who decided to contact Dr Martin Whiting, Head of
Operations at the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) to ask
if he knew of Dr Butler.

Dr Whiting subsequently confirmed that the Home Office had
no record of employing a Dr Butler as an Inspector and that they were in the
process of making further inquiries into the matter.

After Dr Whiting’s response was forward to Dr Dyson, she
replied to him stating that she thought the studies’ procedures did
not meet the criteria for the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986
, but that this was questioned by peer reviewers. She said that her
decision to send Dr Butler’s letter was one that she would “eternally regret” and
that she was “an inherently honest person”. She explained that she was under a
huge amount of pressure in her personal and professional life and that she was “fully
aware that [she] acted completely inappropriately and she requested the
incident be overlooked”.

On 1 March 2019, Dr Dyson sent a letter to William
Reynolds, Head of the Home Office ASRU, in which she expressed remorse for
writing the “Dr Butler letter”. Mr Reynolds subsequently raised a concern with
the RCVS about Dr Dyson’s alleged behaviour.

Dr Jane Downes, who chaired the Disciplinary Committee, and
spoke on its behalf, said: “The Committee heard from Dr Dyson that she had no
recollection of several events detailed in the charge, including writing the
letter from Dr Butler and sending the email to Ms Overall which contained Dr
Butler’s letter. She accepted that the letter was dishonest and that it should
not have been sent. However, she also claimed that, as she could not remember
writing the letter, she did not act dishonestly.

The Committee heard testimonials from several witnesses who
held Dr Dyson in high regard, including colleagues from the AHT, who attested
to her integrity. However, there were many dubious claims made by Dr Dyson
throughout the hearing, including that the Home Office Inspector that she
referenced as “my friendly inspector” was someone who could have given informed
consent to a project as Dr Dyson confirmed that she had met the individual
briefly, around two and a half years ago at a drinks reception.

In reaching its decisions, the Committee considered Dr
Dyson’s previously impeccable character, the written and verbal testimonies
from witnesses. They also considered that during the hearing, Dr Dyson
explained that at the time she fabricated the letter, she was under a lot of
work and personal pressures, including managing a workload amidst colleagues’
resigning or going on maternity leave and it being the anniversary of her
dog having to be humanely destroyed. However, it did not accept Dr Dyson’s
claims that she had amnesia at this time, and considered that she had not owned
up to her wrongdoing until it was discovered. Although Dr Dyson maintained her
actions were not pre-meditated, the Committee considered that, in the case of
the forged letter, a certain amount of planning and careful thought was
involved. The Committee believed that Dr Dyson knew what she was doing at the
time, but acknowledged she may subsequently have blanked out what she did.

The Committee found all but one of the allegations proved and
confirmed that it “was satisfied that the writing and sending of that letter
was the culmination of a course of dishonest conduct.”

Committee Chair Dr Downes said: “In assessing [the evidence
of] Dr Dyson the Committee took into account the difficulty faced by any
Respondent appearing before their Regulator and also the various interruptions
occasioned by issues which had to be dealt with during her evidence. Whilst [Dr
Dyson is] undoubtedly highly qualified and highly respected, the Committee
nevertheless considered her evidence lacked credibility and was not reliable.”

The Committee found that Dr Dyson’s conduct had breached
parts of the RCVS
Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons and amounted
to serious professional misconduct.

Dr Downes continued: “The Committee determined that it was
important that a clear message be sent that this sort of behaviour is wholly
inappropriate and [was] not to be tolerated. It brings discredit upon Dr Dyson
and discredit upon the profession. For whatever reason, Dr Dyson chose not to
respond to Ms Overall’s email on 30 November 2018 in an honest and
straightforward way. Instead, she lied about the makeup of the AHT Ethical
Committee in order to cloak her response with authority. She also lied about
having received advice from a current Inspector for the same reason. In the
Committee’s view, she made a conscious decision to provide a dishonest
response. She no doubt believed that would be the end of the matter. When that
did not work, she lied further in the email to her co-author, Andrew Hemmings,
claiming to have a letter from her friendly Inspector. When that too did not
work, she impersonated a Home Office Inspector in creating the ‘Dr Butler
letter’. She then added a false declaration to the manuscript, which she
subsequently submitted to the Journal along with an email containing yet
further lies. That was all done in a blatant and wilful attempt to deceive Ms
Overall … into believing the contents of the correspondence to be true, that
confirmation a Home Office Licence was not required had been obtained and all
was therefore well with the submitted manuscript. There was no rush, or urgency
to have the paper published and the actions were not done in a moment of panic.
No doubt she had not planned the entire course of events in advance, but
instead reacted to each new obstacle that came her way, but her overall course
of dishonest conduct spanned over three weeks.

“The Committee was well aware of the impact and
ramifications for Dr Dyson of any decision to remove her from the Register but
had to weigh her interests with those of the public. In doing so it took
account of the context and circumstances of the case, all matters of personal mitigation,
as detailed above, Dr Dyson’s undoubted distinguished international career and
reputation and the need to act proportionally. However, for all the reasons
given above, the Committee was of the view that the need to uphold proper
standards of conduct within the veterinary profession, together with the public
interest in maintaining confidence in the profession of veterinary surgeons,
meant that a period of suspension would not be sufficient and that the only
appropriate and proportionate sanction in all the circumstances of this case
was that of removal from the Register.”

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