For more than 30 years young, trusting and vulnerable women visited Dr Morgan Fahey's rooms at the Shirley Medical Centre and left the victims of sexual abuse.

But his activities did not come to police attention until someone made a casual comment to an off-duty officer in 1996.

Charges were not laid until after TV3's 20/20 first aired the allegations in 1998, crippling his ambitions for the Christchurch mayoral elections.

After months of vehement denials and threats of defamation suits, Fahey last week pleaded guilty to 13 sex charges involving 11 women.

Yesterday in the High Court at Christchurch, he leaned on the dock and bowed his head as Justice Hensen sentenced him to six years in prison. The 68-year-old suffers from depression and is still recovering from a 1997 stroke. It is likely that he will end his days in jail.

Some people in the packed public gallery shook their heads in disbelief or held their heads in their hands as a police summary of facts was read to the court.

Excerpts include:

* A heavily pregnant woman who went to Fahey between March and April 1970 for advice on antenatal care and childbirth. He suggested hypnosis to make the birth less painful and suggested she come to the surgery after hours when it was quieter.

He asked her to get onto the bed and close her eyes. After talking to her in a relaxing manner about childbirth, he removed her underwear and began to stimulate her with a vibrator. He then raped her, saying he would penetrate her only a little because she was pregnant. He told her no one else needed to know.

* In 1980, a mother of two went to see Fahey about a sexual matter. He examined her genitals and told her about ways to enhance sex with her husband. He then unzipped his trousers and ejaculated. He told her as she left that there would be no charge for the consultation.

* In August 1981, a woman went to see him about getting a diaphragm fitted. After examining her, he commented on her lubrication and said it was the sign of a healthy woman. He told her she was tense and needed to relax before he fitted the diaphragm. Without her permission, he took a vibrator and used it to stimulate her vagina. He then fitted the diaphragm.

* In October 1994, a woman went to the Shirley Medical Centre and saw Fahey when her regular doctor was not available. She complained of a red line running from her groin area down her right leg. He told her it was an infected vein and the point of entry was often around the vagina. He asked her to get on the bed, and put his fingers into her vagina without wearing gloves.

At least one victim gave birth to his child in the late 1970s. The mother told police he raped her but she did not want to be involved in the court process.

Fahey denied the rape, and when a paternity test proved he was the father said it was because he had given semen to a sperm bank.

Like all sexual predators, Fahey had a talent for singling out vulnerable victims.

As medical examiner for Ansett New Zealand, he had ready access to easy targets - not just because he could control the acceptance process for young women determined to become flight attendants, but because, as he said himself, if an accusation was made, who would believe it?

Unlike his behaviour with other patients, he limited his sexual activity with the Ansett trainees - far enough to afford him some gratification, not so far that it could not be explained away as part of a normal medical examination.

Ansett says now that if it had known anything about "the matters which Dr Fahey was charged with, it would have promptly terminated his engagement."

Former staff say the company did know. But the difficulty was distinguishing rumour from fact, and none of the staff would lay a formal complaint.

Yet the doctor's habit of groping their breasts from behind, and leaving them standing dressed only in their knickers for the eye examination, had earned him the name "Feely Fahey" among Ansett's new recruits.

But the airline stood by its doctor, keeping him on after TV3 aired the initial allegations and not ending his retainer until last year when charges were finally laid.

Even then, the Herald has learned that he continued to enjoy Ansett's staff discount when he flew between Queenstown and Christchurch for his court appearances.

When Ansett told him in 1991 to offer to have a chaperone present when he examined prospective flight attendants, it was not so much to protect the flight attendants as it was to protect the doctor.

One former Ansett flight attendant manager says that when she joined in 1988 she discovered that he routinely carried out the medical examinations in his Auckland hotel room.

Although she never suspected him of impropriety, she put an end to the hotel-room consultations, insisting he use Southern Cross Hospital where a nurse could be present. But this was largely because she thought "it wasn't right for a doctor to put his reputation on the line when examining young women."

Former Ansett employee relations manager John Velleman says it was also for Fahey's protection that he told him flight attendants were gossiping about his habit of playing with their breasts during the examination.

Mr Velleman had been approached by a flight training supervisor to whom some of the women had complained.

Like most people who met Fahey, Mr Velleman simply did not believe he could be a sex abuser - "He was married, I knew his wife, all his background seemed to count against it."

Although he told the flight attendants if they were concerned to make a formal complaint, he says that because no one did, he assumed the allegations were minor.

Fahey assured him these were just young women unused to having their breasts examined by a male doctor.

"What you need to understand is that he was a very impressive character with huge involvement in the community. It needed to be a strong allegation before [the evidence] was overwhelming."

Although Ansett subsequently wrote to staff advising them they had a right to have a chaperone present during the examinations "to remove any possibility of misunderstanding," spokesman John Cordery says he does not know if that advice was issued again after 1991.

Certainly one former flight attendant who laid a complaint with the police, said that when she joined the airline in 1994 she was never told she was entitled to have a nurse present and Fahey never offered one.

As Detective Sergeant Mark Bouvet says: "In essence he got away with it for 30 years, but whether it was common knowledge or just rumour is not known.

"They say everyone knew about it, but I don't know when and how. It came to the attention of police in 1996 and has been actively looked at since then."

But until 20/20 screened its shows, it looked unlikely that charges would follow. Police had three complainants - two who did not want to go to court and a third with little firm evidence.

After the programmes screened, more women came forward.

Although the charges related to 11 women, the Christchurch sexual abuse centre says six more have emerged since Fahey pleaded guilty.

Detective Sergeant Bouvet is reluctant to say how many more victims he has spoken to who did not want to press charges.