'Doctor' status of NZ bomb heroine questioned

The British Medical Association is investigating the status of a New Zealand woman who appeared in a front-page newspaper story about her heroics as a doctor during the London bombings.

The article said Dr Richmal Marie Oates-Whitehead, who works in a non-doctor role for the British Medical Journal, did the "ethical and moral" thing when asked to enter the wrecked bus in Tavistock Square and tend to the injured, despite fears of a second bomb being on board.

The July 30 article in the Weekend Herald said the Gisborne-raised woman studied medicine at Auckland University, but the university has no record of her graduating and neither does Otago Medical School, the only other New Zealand medical school, the Sunday Star-Times reported.

Her name does not appear on the New Zealand Medical Council register or the UK equivalent, the General Medical Council register.

Oates-Whitehead is on leave from the BMJ and could not be contacted.

A British Medical Association spokeswoman said concerns had been raised about Oates-Whitehead and they were being investigated. She would not elaborate but the Sunday Star-Times understands the BMJ will comment further within the next two weeks.

Oates-Whitehead's mother declined to comment. The number 47 bus was the fourth target of the July 7 terrorist bombings, a bomb blowing it up outside the offices of the British Medical Association and the BMJ.

At least 10 doctors and medical staff ran from the BMA offices and began treating the bomb victims. In the article, Oates-Whitehead said she was helping the injured in a makeshift hospital set up in a hotel next door to the medical association when two firemen approached her for help.

"They needed one doctor to assist as firemen cut two badly injured people out of the wreckage. Would she come? They would understand if she declined," the article said.

Oates-Whitehead said: "There was no room for hesitation -- I wasn't thinking at that level. It was the moral and ethical thing to do."

The article then describes a controlled detonation of a second bomb.

"Outside, there was another enormous bang as police detonated the 'bomb' -- which turned out to be a false alarm."

However, the London Metropolitan Police told the Star-Times they had no record of a second controlled explosion ever being carried out in Tavistock Square.

A source described Oates-Whitehead as very intelligent and said she was fluent in German and French. The Star-Times understands the 35-year-old, who recently described herself as a professor in a group email to colleagues, has been living in the United Kingdom since the middle of 2001 and worked as a radiation therapist in Auckland for several years.

Thirteen people died in the Tavistock bus bombing and 43 died in three explosions on the London underground. They included London-based Kiwi Shelley Mather, 26.

- NZPA

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