No good from hypnosis case

Paul McKenna

I read with some surprise the comments made by Martin Smith of Martin Smith & Co in Roger Pearson's article (The Lawyer, 22 September, page 18). I was the subject of the action brought by Mr Gates. I am responding to Smith's suggestion that "some good has come of the action".

The findings of Mr Justice Toulson went further than was suggested in your article. The link postulated by Professor Gruzeller (on behalf of Gates) between hypnosis and schizophrenia was rejected by the judge as neither a "scientifically likely" or "factually probably" explanation for Gates' condition. The judge commented: "I am not persuaded that any meaningful neuro-physiological link between hypnosis and schizophrenia has been demonstrated."

The judge specifically endorsed the evidence of Dr Wagstaff, an eminent expert giving evidence on my behalf, where he compared stage hypnosis to a game show or many other domestic situations where phenomenon of social compliance occurs. The government report (to which the judge also referred) commissioned in October 1995, concluded that "many other popular activities or pursuits clearly carry greater risks [than stage hypnosis]".

As to Mr Crussell, it is significant that he was not even called as a witness on behalf of Gates, despite the fact that he had treated him. The reason for this is perhaps indicated by Judge Toulson's comments on Crussell's treatment of Gates. He observed that "Crussell wanted the plaintiff to stop his medication and threatened not to treat him unless he did so, whereas the advice of the consultant psychiatrist in charge of his case was that he should continue to take anti-psychotic medication".

I hope that the Gates action will be treated in particular by the Legal Aid Board as a test case, and that they will not fund such actions in the future.

Both Pearson and Smith appear to have forgotten in their deliberations the expense and distress caused to me by this action, for which I can get no recompense whatsoever – despite the fact I was entirely vindicated by it. Neither appears concerned by this obvious injustice.

The taxpayer has met the bill for the substantial preparation and conduct of a trial.

Gates has gained nothing, and rather the judge indicated that the legal process has not helped his recovery. The public has, I believe, based on the judge's findings, been unnecessarily alarmed. I have suffered the distress and expense of the proceedings and the trial, along with substantial consequent losses because of the publicity generated by this action.

By contrast, Smith has enjoyed the limelight, and a handsome fee. Much of the "good" which he says has come from the trial seems to have alighted on him.