A Powys-based veterinary surgeon who was convicted of causing death by careless driving has not been found unfit to practise veterinary surgery by the RCVS Disciplinary Committee.
Stephen Kiernan Lomax was found guilty of causing death by careless driving at Shrewsbury Crown Court on 18 July 2019 and was subsequently sentenced to a 12-month community order, 300 hours’ unpaid work, 15-months’ driving disqualification and ordered to pay £1,000 in prosecution costs and victim surcharge of £85.
Mr Lomax declared his conviction to the RCVS in April 2020 as part of his declaration upon renewing his registration, following which the RCVS started its concerns investigation process leading to his appearance before the Disciplinary Committee on Monday 12 October 2020.
At the outset of the hearing Mr Lomax admitted the charge against him, which was also accepted by the Committee based on its receipt of the certificate of conviction from Shrewsbury Crown Court.
The Committee next considered whether the conviction rendered Mr Lomax unfit to practise.
The submissions from the RCVS were that the conviction rendered Mr Lomax unfit to practise given the nature and severe circumstances of the conviction. That Mr Lomax’s conduct was extremely serious resulting in devastating consequences in that it led to the death of a 64-year-old woman. The College further submitted that his conduct would be considered to have fallen far short of the standard expected of a member of the profession, that it had devastating consequences, and that the conviction would have an impact on the reputation of the profession and the public’s confidence in it.
“The Committee did not consider that Mr Lomax’s conduct was liable to have a seriously detrimental effect on the reputation of the profession and concluded that the public, in full knowledge of the circumstances of this particular case, would not expect a finding that the conviction renders him unfit to practise as a veterinary surgeon,” Dr Martin Whiting, Disciplinary Committee Chair.
Mr Lomax’s counsel, who represented him during the hearing, submitted that he did not accept his conduct rendered him unfit to practise as a veterinary surgeon, although Mr Lomax did accept that the impact of his conduct was devastating. Mr Lomax’s counsel submitted that there was a significant difference between his conduct and its consequences, as evidenced by the fact he was charged with careless driving rather than dangerous driving meaning that, though his standard of driving had fallen below that expected of a competent and careful driver, it did not fall far below. Nor was there a suggestion that Mr Lomax had carried out a deliberate act, was carrying out any dangerous manoeuvers or was otherwise impaired.
Dr Martin Whiting, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “There is no doubt that the consequences of Mr Lomax’s conduct were serious and tragic for the [victim’s] family. The Judge at the Crown Court referred to their loss in detail and it no doubt played a significant part in the sentence he passed, as reflected by his comments. The Committee was cognisant, however, of the different role it had to perform. A criminal conviction marks a breach of criminal law, whereas a finding of unfitness marks a breach of professional standards. When looking at the conviction, the Committee focused on the actual conduct of Mr Lomax and the concomitant level of culpability, rather than the consequences. Whilst it would be artificial, insensitive and inappropriate to ignore the consequences, the Committee was concerned with the conduct.”
He added: “The Committee did not consider that Mr Lomax’s conduct was liable to have a seriously detrimental effect on the reputation of the profession and concluded that the public, in full knowledge of the circumstances of this particular case, would not expect a finding that the conviction renders him unfit to practise as a veterinary surgeon. Rather, the public would recognise that whilst the consequences were appalling for the [victim’s] family, in terms of Mr Lomax’s culpability this was a momentary piece of poor driving rather than anything more blameworthy. At its height it was careless driving for three or so seconds. In the Committee’s view Mr Lomax’s careless behaviour fell below, but not far below, the standard expected of a veterinary surgeon and did not amount to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.”
The full findings of the Disciplinary Committee can be found on the disciplinary hearings listings page.