And the crooked bitch mainly responsible is still in her job!
A class action against the federal Government is set to be launched next week after the $55million payout to Pan Pharmaceuticals founder Jim Selim. The Government could be liable for another multi-million-dollar payout because of the action taken by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2003 to cancel Pan's licence. The Weekend Australian has also uncovered further evidence of what occurred in the lead-up to the decision to cancel Pan's licence - including a senior TGA officer shredding notes taken at a crucial meeting.
Mr Selim claimed the government had breached its duty and abused its power of public office, and his Federal Court case was settled on Thursday in his favour. More than 300 people lost their jobs, shareholders lost tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of businesses were affected by Pan's closure in 2003.
In January that year, people reported hallucinations and vomiting as a result of taking travel sickness drug Travacalm. The TGA then investigated Pan and meetings were held to decide what action to take. On April 23, 2003, the TGA organised for an expert advisory group to decide whether the public was at "imminent risk" of death, serious injury or serious illness from Pan's products. It was a statutory requirement that the government believed this "imminent risk" existed before it could take the action to cancel Pan's licence. The EAG was later to report back to the TGA that there was no "imminent risk", although it did find there was a lack of confidence in the quality of Pan's products.
Pages of notes taken by the members of the EAG were later taken by the TGA and destroyed at the direction of senior bureaucrat Fiona Cumming. Dr Cumming is the director of the office of complementary medicines. At the same time, the EAG was meeting at the Qantas Club at Sydney Airport to discuss the risks of Pan's products, media officer Kay McNeice was in the TGA's Canberra office putting the finishing touches to a media release - announcing the cancellation of Pan's licence.
Although the notes of the EAG's deliberations were destroyed, lawyers were able to unearth a transcript of the meeting, which had been recorded at the behest of the TGA. "We don't have much evidence do we," one member noted. "We're having trouble getting to 'imminent risk'," said another. The findings of the EAG did not justify an immediate suspension of Pan's licence, a proposition agreed to in court by the TGA's director of the office of devices, blood and tissues Rita Maclachlan, who spent several days being cross-examined by Mr Selim's barristers. Immediate suspension meant Pan could not dispute the issue in the courts, a fact the TGA was aware of.
Ms Maclachlan, second in command at the TGA, was also present when then health minister Kay Patterson and prime minister John Howard were briefed in late April. "Why didn't you speak up and say, 'Look, even though it's not my call ... we are about to implement the largest recall in the history of the Western world, unlawfully, because we are going to deny the company its statutory requirement to natural justice'. Why didn't you say that?" Mr Selim's barrister, Justin Gleeson SC, asked. "I don't have a recollection, Mr Gleeson" Ms Maclachlan replied.
When Ms Maclachlan gave evidence that she was concerned that one batch of Pan products - manufactured in August 2000 and not part of the 2003 recall - could cause severe allergic reactions in the public, the judge hearing the case, Arthur Emmett asked a few questions of his own. "You weren't prepared to recall this product back then but that was the reason you were going to call the other 6000 products back (in 2003)?" "I don't have a particular recollection as to what happened with this product," Ms Maclachlan replied.
"But you've just told me ... that you were concerned that this product was still out in the community," Justice Emmett said. "You didn't take any steps to have it recalled? I just find that quite unbelievable." Ms Maclachlan declined to comment yesterday.
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