Doctor who viewed child abuse pictures allowed to return to medicine

A heart doctor who downloaded child abuse images and Googled ‘bestiality’ on a work computer will be allowed to return to medicine after he blamed his behaviour on stress caused by NHS red tape.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Steven Burn, 53, was arrested after IT staff at the Royal Derby Hospital found 65 indecent images of children on his work PC while checking to see if it had been infected by a computer virus.

Some of these pictures featured children alleged to be as young as seven, while Burn had also downloaded Japanese ‘Hentai’ animated pornographic images and made Google searches under the headings ‘bestiality’, ‘little Asian girls’, little Japanese girls’ and ‘beautiful little boys’.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Steven Burn, 53, (pictured) viewed child abuse images and Googled ‘bestiality’ on his work computer but will be allowed to return to medicine after blaming his behaviour on stress

Hospital chiefs later fired Burn from his post for gross misconduct and he was convicted by a court of possessing indecent images.

However, a disciplinary panel at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in Manchester ruled that Burn should be allowed to return to medicine, after serving a 12-month ban.

The panel ruled that the doctor’s fitness to practise was impaired but opted to merely to suspend him after he pleaded to be allowed to resume his 28-year career, saying he would ‘rather die than reoffend.’

Burn, who lives with his long term girlfriend, said he started trawling porn websites to ‘block things out’ after he struggled to obtain funding for the cardiology unit at the hospital.

He said his efforts to get the money were being hampered by NHS bureaucracy, which he claimed left him ‘withdrawn, isolated and inadequate’. 

Burns behaviour was uncovered in 2014 when IT staff carried out tests on Burn’s computer over fears it was being spammed with pornographic images due to a virus. 

But they discovered images on the PC had been downloaded by Burn himself using login details and a password.

Burn, was arrested after IT staff at the Royal Derby Hospital (pictured) found 65 indecent images of children on his work PC while checking to see if it had been infected by a computer virus

The doctor, from Church Broughton, Derbyshire, was confronted by police and initially claimed the computer would have adult pornography material ‘similar to that seen in Nuts or Loaded magazines’.

But when his computer was confiscated and analysed, specialists found it had 31 indecent images of children and 34 prohibited images of children. These included realistic 3D graphics of adults engaging in penetrative sexual activity with young girls.

Last December, Burn was handed a three-year community order by magistrates, given a five-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order and told to attend a Sex Offenders Programme as well as signing the Sex Offender Register for five years.He was fired from the hospital in June.

‘The job I did was something I spent my entire life aiming for since the age of 13 and I was a consultant in a speciality I loved,’ Burn told the tribunal hearing.

‘But increasingly I did become very frustrated about the development of services I thought were important for patients.

‘The bureaucracy is legendary.Instead of dealing with it in the correct manner I became more withdrawn and this added to my own feelings of inadequacy as I couldn’t get things done that I felt were important. I seemed to be always competing.

‘It led me to a situation where I would feel so isolated that I would always look for distractions and look for some way of blocking things out.And I would, in the office, when alone, turn to the internet.

‘It wasn’t just about prohibited sites, it was all sorts of distracting internet activity to do with my hobbies and my interest in military history.

‘But unfortunately I did also start accessing pornography and that was a reversion to how I acted when I was single.It was a form of distraction and nothing more than that. It’s dangerous these days. It leads to things. You put stupid search terms in and get incredible things.’

I would feel so isolated that I would always look for distractions and look for some way of blocking things out.And I would, in the office, when alone, turn to the internet
Dr Steven Burn 

‘They would come up on Google among everything else that was there.I have no sexual interest in children. I knew I needed help as the way I dealt with my problems was inadequate and led to this catastrophic behaviour and I have been talking to a psychologist for well over one year.’

The decision to suspend Burn means he will be able to treat patients whilst on the Sex Offender Register.Lawyers for the General Medical Council had called for him to be struck off. 

Panel chairman Martyn Green told Burn: ‘Whilst the events occurred in the workplace, the panel did not consider you had put patients at risk of harm.

‘During the course of your evidence when asked about the risk of re-offending, you said that there was “no possibility. None whatsoever.” You stated that you would ‘rather die’ and that you do not intend to put yourself in that position again.

‘You said that you had spent your life helping people and the thought that you have taken part in activity which might have caused harm to children is almost unbearable.

‘You told the panel about your difficult personal circumstances at the time, and the stresses and strains you experienced in relation to your work.

‘You said that rather than dealing with things you withdrew into yourself..You said had an inability to ask for help and the mental state you allowed yourself to get into led you to the behaviour at work.

‘ You now have an established support network of friends and family and are more able to talk openly about your feelings.You appear to be a competent and dedicated clinician whose services would be of benefit to the public.

‘Your conviction arose from a very serious aberration in an otherwise unblemished career.

‘A sanction of erasure would be disproportionate.Erasure is not the only means of protecting the public interest, which includes maintaining public trust and confidence in the profession in this case.’

Before his 12-month suspension expires, Dr Burn must attend a review hearing.

A spokeswoman for Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We’d like to reassure patients that this matter was not related to his clinical practice or the care his patients received in Derby.’

But Claude Knights of children’s Charity Kidscape said: ‘It is always distressing when an individual in a significant position of trust is found to have engaged in despicable activities.Patient-doctor relationships need to be built on confidence and trust, but sadly both these vital ingredients will be lacking for some time in this regrettable case.’ 


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