The former Chief Minister has denied he had a hand in firing an eye surgeon whose dismissal, just one week before he started work, left him feeling suicidal.
Senator Ian Gorst was the Chairman of the States Employment Board (SEB) when Jersey-born Dr Amar Alwitry, who had been offered a post as a consultant in ophthalmology at the General Hospital, was told his contract had been terminated before he was due to start on 1 December 2012.
Speaking in the Royal Court as one of the first serving Ministers to have ever appeared in the witness box, Senator Ian Gorst, said that the SEB were only made aware of Dr Amar Alwitry’s sacking when the officials behind the decision feared it would became “a political or media issue.”
His testimony came amid grilling on Friday by Dr Alwitry’s representative, Advocate Stephen Chiddicks.
When asked when the SEB met for the first time to discuss the surgeon’s dismissal, he replied: "You will appreciate it was a number of years ago. I, of course recall seeing the letter [informing the SEB that Dr Alwitry had been dismissed, ed.], but I don’t recall when there was a formalised meeting."
The Senator "found it hard to remember" several details during the questioning, repeatedly maintaining that his account was "to the best of my recollection."
He denied that the SEB had been involved in the decision to approval of the withdrawal of Dr Alwitry's contract. He told Court: "All the recruitment decisions were delegated from the SEB to officials. The decision to approve or terminate was a decision made by officials."
He added that it wasn't necessary for officials to consult the SEB on such matters. He explained they had only contacted the SEB on this occasion as they were concerned might become "a political or media issue."
"It was highly unusual for us to even be notified in this way," he added.
Pictured: Senator Gorst was the Chairman of the States Employment Board when Dr Alwitry was controversially sacked.
Senator Gorst said he couldn’t remember whether he’d been given any documented evidence of Dr Alwitry’s alleged wrongdoing, but did recall a board meeting with members of the hospital team. He however said that the SEB asked the director of Human Resources to review the process that had led to the dismissal.
Bartley McNeela, a former Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Hospital who retired in 2014, also appeared in Court. He said it was normal for a consultant to be assertive of his own interests and patient concerns, as all consultants have "special interests in fields the Clinical Director may not have knowledge of."
He added that a clinical director can't validate a decision based on hierarchy only, especially when a doctor's opinion is involved. "The Clinical Director has to recognise the expertise... He has to bow to the knowledge and assessment and argument of the doctor."
Mr McNeela also said that it was "unrealistic and ambitious" to expect someone to start in November if they had been interviewed in August due to the process the application has to go through.
Claudia Alwitry, Dr Alwitry's wife, was also called as a witness, telling Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith, who was sitting with Jurats Antony Olsen and Geoffrey Grime, that the case "really changed" her husband.
"When this happened, it took a part of him away," she added before leaving.
The Solicitor General Mark Temple will be putting the SEB's case before the Court today. The case is expected to last until early October.
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