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Aberdeenshire vet suspended for risking undermining public health procedures

16 December 2022

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has suspended an Aberdeenshire-based veterinary surgeon from the Register for six months after he was found guilty of conduct that risked undermining procedures designed to promote public health and animal welfare and which conduct was also in part dishonest. 

At the beginning of the hearing legal applications were made on behalf of Mr James Dean Gracey to the Disciplinary Committee asking them to rule that the whole proceedings should be stopped as an abuse of process on various grounds including the delay that had occurred in the matters being referred to the RCVS, and that there had been flaws in the original investigatory process.

There was a separate application that the evidence of one of the College’s witnesses should be excluded on the grounds that the witness had been convicted of bribery. The Committee, having considered the submissions made by Counsel representing Mr Gracey and the College, decided that there was no abuse in allowing the proceedings to continue and ruled that the statement and evidence of one witness should be excluded from the hearing based upon their conviction.

James Dean Gracey was found guilty in respect of five charges in relation to cows, some of which were owned by his father** [Please see note at the end of the story]. These were:

  • On or about 15 December 2016 he signed a Food Chain Information form in relation to a cow without declaring that there was a conflict of interest because the cow belonged to his father and without including his and his practice’s contact details with his signature;
  • On or about 30 March 2017 he signed a Food Chain Information form in relation to a cow, also without declaring a conflict of interest or leaving sufficient contact details;
  • On or about 6 April 2017 he signed an Emergency Slaughter form for a cow without declaring a conflict of interest as above, and that he stated that he hadn’t not administered any treatment to the cow within the previous seven days of signing the form when he himself had; 
  • On or about 2 July 2019 signed a Food Chain Information form stating that a cow was fit for travel when it was not;
  • That his conduct in relation to the proven charges risked undermining public health and animal welfare, and in relation to the Emergency Slaughter Form his conduct was dishonest and misleading.

Having found Mr Gracey guilty of the above charges – three other charges were found not proven and one allegation was withdrawn by the RCVS - the Committee went on to consider if the proven charges amounted to serious professional misconduct. In doing so it made reference to the Code of Professional Conduct and its supporting guidance, particularly in relation to the 10 Principles of Certification. These principles set out the expectations and obligations, including around honesty and candour, when veterinary surgeons are signing documentation in an official capacity.

Dr Hazel Bentall MRCVS, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee considered individually and cumulatively all matters it had found proved. It concluded that the public relies on veterinary surgeons to be honest and transparent when completing and signing forms. There is a public interest in being able to trust the profession to uphold high standards of probity because veterinary surgeons are trusted to play an important role in the promotion of animal health and welfare and associated human health. The Committee therefore concluded that cumulatively Charges 1, 2, 3 and 4 amounted to serious professional misconduct because the respondent had failed to meet the necessary high standards of honesty and transparency. In particular the fact that there were four separate events relating to animal welfare and public health was significant when considering what sanction to impose.

“The Committee is satisfied that such conduct, when taken together, would be considered deplorable by other members of the profession. The respondent’s conduct on four occasions in respect of four animals and three conflicts of interest called into question his competence in relation to completing such forms.”

In considering the appropriate sanction for Mr Gracey, the Committee took into account both mitigating and aggravating circumstances, as well as a number of character witnesses for the respondent who highlighted his positive personal and professional qualities.

In mitigation, the Committee considered that Mr Gracey has hitherto been of good character with no previous disciplinary findings, that he had admitted some parts of the charges against him at the outset of the hearing, that he had made efforts to avoid repeating the misconduct and remediate it – this included making alternative certification arrangements for his father’s farm and taking more appropriate care with record keeping. Furthermore, the Committee also acknowledged the significant lapse of time between the date of the misconduct and the hearing and the stress that had caused to Mr Gracey, as well as the insight he had shown into his misconduct.

Taking into account all the factors, the Committee decided that imposing a period of six months suspension from the Register of Veterinary Surgeons was the appropriate sanction for Mr Gracey. Dr Bentall added: “The Committee concluded that suspension of the respondent’s registration for a period of six months was proportionate. The Committee considered whether a shorter period was appropriate bearing in mind the mitigating factors it had found applied in this case. It decided that a period of six months was proportionate and the minimum length necessary to meet the public interest balancing the seriousness of the misconduct and the mitigation. It decided that a shorter period of suspension would be insufficient to uphold proper standards within the profession, or to have a deterrent effect.

“The Committee was satisfied that the respondent had shown sufficient insight and efforts to remediate his misconduct and it concluded that at the end of this period of suspension he would not pose a further risk to animal welfare or public health. The Committee considered that the respondent was a valued veterinary surgeon with extensive farm animal experience and that a more severe sanction such as removal from the RCVS Register would not properly reflect the Committee’s findings on the scale of dishonesty and would not take account of the respondent’s mitigation.”

Please note: this news story is intended to be a summary of the hearing to assist in understanding the case and the Committee's decision. The full details of the hearing and the Committee’s decision can be found on the RCVS Disciplinary hearing webpage

** This article was amended on 6 January 2023 to reflect the fact that one of the charges related to a cow that was not owned by Mr Gracey’s father. 

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