Michael Shine is a retired consultant surgeon who worked at the Lourdes hospital in Drogheda. He’s 80 years old and he’s been accused of multiple sexual assaults over the course of his career. Michael Shine was today charged with 25 counts of sexually assaulting sixteen young men over a period of twenty years. Nearly four years ago, Shine was struck off the medical register for professional misconduct after a number of men made allegations of sexual assault. It was alleged that the assaults happened in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s while Shine was examining children and teenagers at the hospital and at his office.
The Sunday World, in typical hyperbolic style, called him Doctor Filth, while IrishHealth.com claimed that Shine may have abused hundreds of patients during his career. Advocacy group One in Four called for an inquiry into Shine’s activities, and it was revealed in a 2009 RTE documentary that Shine had invested in an Indian orphanage and was taking a special interest in two particular boys.
Michael Shine has never taken legal action to restore his good name, despite all these claims which would, in the normal course of events, be disgracefully defamatory if found to be untrue. What’s more, the medical profession found the allegations of sexual abuse so compelling, they kicked him out of their membership.
It’s not looking good for Michael Shine, but here comes a hard question. Isn’t everyone in this country presumed innocent until proven guilty?
I thought so anyway and I’m sure lots of other people thought the same.
It’s not that I have any particular affection for Michael Shine, or for his appalling colleague in the same hospital, Michael Neary, whose arrogance allowed him to routinely butcher young women under his control — an arrogance that continues to afflict consultants in Irish hospitals. What I have discomfort with is the notion of trial by media, or trial by internet.
I want to see this man hear the evidence against him. I want to see him facing his accusers who, by all accounts, are well able to look him in the eye, and I want to see a jury weigh the facts.
Is this to protect Michael Shine? Yes, but only to the extent that it also protects me, and it protects you, and it protects everyone else accused of a crime. That’s a fundamental principle of any democracy.
Here’s an extract from an old post about another case. I think it’s relevant here.
Years and years ago, I was lucky enough to be burgled. I say lucky because I learned a great lesson about the nature of democracy as a result.
It was when I lived in Dublin. Somebody broke into the house in the middle of the night and stole one or two items and some money. The police came. They found the fingerprints of a known thief on the window. They arrested the thief, who swore he was never in that part of town in his life.
They charged him with the burglary, the case went to court before a jury and I was called as a witness. I can’t remember the name of the old judge, but I do remember him reading through the book of evidence, looking more and more troubled and finally sending the jury out of the room. Then he looked around the court before fixing the police with an unblinking basilisk stare.
According to this book of evidence, the defendant says he was never there in his life, yet his fingerprints were found on the outside of the window. This proves one of three things: either he has a bad memory, he’s a liar or the police are liars. It does not prove he was inside that house.
It gives rise to gross suspicion, but the day we start putting people in jail on the grounds of gross suspicion is the day we have a police state!
And, do you know something? He was right. I wanted to clap and cheer this old judge. Even though I was the victim of this thief’s crime, the police didn’t prove he was guilty. I’d have happily broken his legs, given half a chance, but he couldn’t go to jail, because there was a democracy to be protected. As simple as that.
Wise words. It’s true that men like Shine and Neary swaggered around the wards of their fiefdom, unquestioned by the nuns who owned the establishment and immune to examination by the civil servants who ran the department of health. It’s true that there was no culture of questioning the consultant, and there probably still is no such culture, unlike on our neighbouring island. It’s true that these people were overpaid and under-scrutinised, leading to a God complex in many of them, but whatever we may think of the ethos that animated the Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, or for that matter, any other hospital in this religious-controlled little State, everyone is entitled to due process. Even a struck-off hospital consultant.
Let the trial take its course, not only for the protection of Michael Shine, but for the protection of the rest of us who may one day face charges put to us by a police officer. It’s for the courts to decide if that policeman is accusing us fairly or otherwise, not the internet and not the press.