Misconduct charges against Dr. Alan Cockeram in Saint John quietly dropped

Misconduct charges against Dr. Alan Cockeram in Saint John quietly dropped

New Brunswick's College of Physicians and Surgeon's quietly dropped all misconduct allegations against Dr. Alan Cockeram eight months ago but opted not to issue a public statement despite the dramatic change in the high-profile case.

"We had wondered about it,"  said college registrar Dr. Ed Schollenberg. "We thought about it. We thought at some point someone would ask the question.

"We didn't really know how to bring it forward, I guess is the best way to put it. In hindsight that might have been a reasonable thing to do."

Cockeram, a Saint John gastroenterologist, was limited by the college to treating only male patients for more than three years following accusations from several women that he performed unnecessary and inappropriate breast exams.

Crown withdrew charges

Saint John police laid nine sexual assault charges against Cockeram in February 2013, but Crown prosecutors withdrew those charges five months later, saying there was not a reasonable prospect of conviction.

Still the college continued with its own disciplinary proceedings against Cockeram, eventually receiving complaints from 23 women.

But the college also developed doubts about the case and abandoned it last summer, quietly lifting the restriction on Cockeram treating women in early July.

Schollenberg says several women who had lodged complaints were nervous about participating in a public board of inquiry and others began to reconsider whether Cockeram's conduct had crossed any ethical boundaries.

Hesitant complainants

"They were entitled to be uncertain if they want to, but if we're going to prosecute a matter you can't really bring a case forward if a complainant is going to say 'I know that's what I said, but I don't think that's what really happened after all.'"

For some, Schollenberg said, the intense public interest shown in the Dennis Oland murder trial and the thought that might happen in their own case also became a significant concern.

"The overwhelming majority were very, very happy we were not proceeding." he said.

Nathalie Godbout was Cockeram's lawyer through the college's disciplinary process and said he is happy it's over.

"I think he would describe that window of time as the most difficult of his life but he's grateful for the outcome,' said Godbout.

Godbout said despite the positive conclusion of the case, Cockeram was concerned he had not been properly explaining to women why he was conducting breast exams and has taken communications training to try to improve his interaction with patients.

"His take-away from all of this has been that it's important to spend that time with patients so that they understand what it is that needs to be done in order to reach a diagnosis, said Godbout.

"He acknowledged that his communication with these patients could have been more thorough."