A highly-respected doctor who left a dad with life-changing injuries in a head-on smash after “self-medicating” with cans of lager has walked free from court.
Consultant anaesthetist Dr Julia Morch-Siddall had downed four-and-a-half cans of Stella Artois in her Land Rover Freelander as she battled a serious medical complaint and thoughts of suicide, a court heard.
The doctor, who has done work for the World Health Organisation, was spotted veering out of control on the A1 where she hit barriers and broke the speed limit.
After turning off the dual carriageway in Gateshead, a witness who had reported her to the police and followed her, tried to intervene.
The 50-year-old, looking “glazed and vacant”, ignored the man’s pleas to stop, drove off, ran a red light then careered into oncoming traffic on the A692 near Sunniside.
Coming the other way was IT consultant Wesley Hall in his VW Up.
He had no chance of avoiding a horrific head-on crash and suffered multiple fractures to his feet which left him in a wheelchair for months.
He is still in agony and unable to walk properly eight months on and facing up to the likelihood of lifelong disability.
Mr Hall, 36, of North Shields, was in court as Morch-Siddall was sentenced for causing serious injury by dangerous driving and said afterwards it was “disgraceful” she was not sent to prison.
Speaking outside court, leaning on his walking stick, the dad-of-three, who has lost his job as a result of his injuries, said: “The sentence was disgraceful in my opinion.
“I feel if it had been any other member of the public and not a doctor, she would have been facing jail time right now.”
It was on January 30 this year that Morch-Siddall, of Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, was spotted driving erratically on the A1 by motorist James Kennedy.
He was heading south past the Metro Centre when the Freelander swerved towards him then crossed in front of him then collided with a barrier. It then continued to “meander” before hitting the central reservation.
Mr Kennedy called 999 to report what was happening and saw the Freelander moving between lanes and hitting the central reservation again.
The witness became so concerned at the manner of driving, which he said was in excess of the 50mph limit, he straddled the two lanes to prevent other vehicles overtaking him and potentially being struck by Morch-Siddall.
She pulled off at Team Valley near Sainsbury’s, did a loop without indicating then joined the A1 north bound.
The court heard she hit inside lane barriers a number of times before leaving the dual carriageway at Lobley Hill.
At one point she stalled and Mr Kennedy, who had continued to follow her, got out and approached the Freelander, hoping to take the keys off her. However it was a keyless ignition.
He then grabbed the driver by the top and said “Just stop”, but she didn’t.
Emma Dowling, prosecuting, said: “She had a glazed and vacant look and started to drive forward again.
“He continued to follow her, giving the police updates and they went towards Sunniside.
“She went through a red light and Mr Kennedy then saw her car on the wrong side of the road and she failed to follow a bend in the road.
“He could see a car coming in the opposite direction and it had nowhere to go. The vehicles collided head on.
“The witness rushed to the driver’s door of the defendant’s vehicle. He had a hold of her until the police arrived as he formed the view she was trying to get away.”
Mr Hall, who was in third gear and within the 30mph limit, was knocked unconscious by the force of the impact and when he came round he was in considerable pain.
Miss Dowling said: “The defendant was struggling with the police, they were trying to arrest her.
“She refused a breath test and was abusive to ambulance staff at the scene.
“Four empty cans of Stella Artois were in the car along with a half-empty can. Three more cans had not been opened.”
When interviewed by police she said she was “profoundly sorry” and explained that she had a medical condition which she had struggled with and would “binge drink to cope with the pain” sometimes.
Miss Dowling said: “She couldn’t remember anything about the journey because of the considerable amount of alcohol she had consumed.”
Mr Hall suffered multiple fractures to both feet, including dislocated fractures near the base of his toes and has had operations.
Miss Dowling said: “He describes the effect as catastrophic and life-changing.”
Morch-Siddall, of East Heddon, Heddon-on-the-Wall, admitted causing serious injury by dangerous driving and failing to provide a specimen of breath.
She was sentenced to 18 months suspended for 18 months with 80 hours of unpaid work, programme requirements and a three year driving ban.
Judge Robert Adams said: “Your only explanation is you were trying to kill yourself at the time.
“You stopped working when you realised the extent of your problems and have not worked since but you are now recommended to be fit to work again.
“You had consumed a substantial amount of alcohol but your barrister says this was down to your medical condition and that this was not a deliberate act on your part.
“It’s right to say there’s very significant psychiatric mitigation. She was not in control of her actions.”
Christopher Knox, defending, handed in glowing references from a number of doctors who spoke very highly of Morch-Siddall.
Mr Knox said she had had “suicidal thoughts” and had considered driving into a “static object” to take her own life, but did not deliberately drive into Mr Hall’s car.
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The barrister added that Morch-Siddall had suffered Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that at the time of the crash “was not of sound mind, she was acutely ill”.
Mr Knox added: “She found herself impelled to take drink to self-medicate, unsuccessfully but impulsively on these days.”
The court heard General Medical Council assessors have taken the view she is now, as a result of her treatment and stabilisation, a fit and proper person to practice her profession again.
Mr Knox said: “So this arises from an extraordinarily severe medical condition and unfortunately she was not treated promptly or properly.
“She didn’t set out to do any harm to anyone. There’s no question of her having put patients at risk.”
The court heard that Morch-Siddall, who has no previous convictions, has done work for the World Health Organisation in places including the West Bank, Palestine, Georgia and Africa. She was taken prisoner while working in the West Bank and treated badly.
Mr Knox said: “She has had a thoroughly useful career and should resume it.
“She has looked after her own disability very well until this horrible period.
“That may come as, sadly, little consolation to the unfortunate victim, who is utterly innocent and she couldn’t be more apologetic to him. She regrets that he suffered as a result of her actions.”
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