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Arthur Henry Douthwaite was a British doctor, Vice President of the Royal College of Physiciansmarker and a prolific medical textbook writer. He was the foremost expert on heroin in Britainmarker in the 1950s, leading to him being called as an expert witness in the trial of suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams.


Douthwaite was a senior physician at Guy's Hospitalmarker, and an Honorary Physician at All Saints' Hospital for Genito-urinary Diseases.

Douthwaite was Britain's foremost expert on dangerous drugs, and was instrumental in dissuading the Home Office from banning heroin for medical use.

Dr Douthwaite was greatly respected for his diagnostic skills. One story told of how he had walked into the casualty department in his usual morning dress and greeted the casualty officer, "I am Arthur Henry Douthwaite and I have just perforated my duodenal ulcer, please arrange my admission." According to the story, he had.

Bodkin Adams trial

In 1957 Douthwaite gave evidence at the Dr John Bodkin Adams murder trial, one of the first in Britain to be based on the testimony of expert witnesses. As Lord Justice Patrick Devlin explained: "It is a most curious situation, perhaps unique in these courts, that the act of murder has to be proved by expert evidence".

Adams had been arrested the previous year for the murder of two elderly widows, Gertrude Hullett and Edith Alice Morrell. He was tried for the murder of the latter and the prosecution, led by Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, alleged that he had killed her with excessive doses of heroin and morphine. Douthwaite and Michael Ashby were the prosecution's key witnesses. But while Ashby was more hesitant as to whether Adams had meant to kill Morrell, Douthwaite was adamant that Adams had intended her death. He could think of "no legitimate reason" for Adams' drug prescribing, and could only summise that it suggested "a desire to terminate life". At times however, his testimony seemed over-confident and even arrogant, and only succeeded in putting off the jury and the judge. He was also criticised for what seemed to be a change in his hypothesis half-way through the trial, when he selected a different date for when Adams had begun his attempt to kill Morrell.

Defence counsel, Frederick Geoffrey Lawrence, put it to him thus:
"The truth of all this matter is this, Dr Douthwaite, that you first of all gave evidence on one basis to support a charge of murder and then thought of something else after you had started?"
Douthwaite replied:
"That is quite likely.
In fact, I think it is probable.
I had been turning it over in my mind but at what time it crystallised and became clear I do not know."

Historian Pamela Cullen defends Douthwaite, however, saying that Manningham-Buller had intentionally lost vital evidence - nurses' notebooks - which detailed Adams' treatment of the patient. Douthwaite was therefore not able to examine these to prepare his theory of events. Cullen adds furthermore, that Manningham-Buller actually gave them to the defence, which allowed defence counsel Frederick Geoffrey Lawrence QC to present them on the second day of the trial. Douthwaite, caught unawares, was then forced to quickly adjust his hypothesis to take into account the new evidence, which gave the impression that he was being inconsistent and speculating on the hoof.

Douthwaite's evidence's underwhelming impact, coupled with defence witness John B. Harman's evidence in favour of Adams, helped ensure Adams' acquittal. Douthwaite's performance at the trial however did not endear him to his fellow doctors, who resented his attempt to convict one of their peers. Douthwaite had previously been greatly respected within the profession, but his involvement is widely considered to have cost him the presidency of the Royal College of Physiciansmarker. As Devlin later wrote in his account of the trial, the case was "a very important one for the medical profession, which was naturally worried by the thought that the prescription of drugs might lead to a charge of murder".

According to Scotland Yardmarker's files on Adams, the police believed that 163 of Adams' patients died in highly suspicious circumstances. Reporter Rodney Hallworth and historian Pamela Cullen also identify another patient, Annie Sharpe, as a possible victim not included in this number, and Cullen further identifies Edward Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire as a probable victim. Adams was only ever convicted on 13 counts of prescription fraud, lying on cremation forms, obstructing a police search and failing to keep a dangerous drugs register. He was removed from the Medical Register in 1957 and reinstated in 1961.


Douthwaite wrote many textbooks:
  • The injection treatment of varicose veins, London, H. K. Lewis, 1928
  • The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, London, H. K. Lewis, 1929
  • The treatment of chronic arthritis, London, Cape, 1930
  • The treatment of asthma, London, H. K. Lewis, 1930
  • A guide to general practice, London, H. K. Lewis, 1932
  • The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica, London, H. K. Lewis, 1933
  • An Index of Differential Diagnosis of Main Symptoms (with Herbert French), Bristol, John Wright, 1945 (6th edition)
  • French's Index of Differential Diagnosis, Williams & Wilkins, 1960
  • The use of heroin, S.I., 1956
  • Materia medica, pharmacology and therapeutics (with Sir William Hale-White), London, Churchill, 1949, 1959, 1963.


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