Woman left terrified of owls after religious grooming by doctor wins damages


A woman who developed a fear of owls after months of religious grooming by her doctor has won a High Court damages action.

Sally Brayshaw, 56, of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, was taken to religious meetings and told the devil was “having a real go” at her by GP Thomas O’Brien.

The locum doctor, a Pentecostal Christian, also suggested she was possessed by demons and advised her not to see a psychiatrist, according to her claim.

She was left traumatised as a result of her experience and developed a phobia of owls, which causes her to become terrified when she sees a picture of one.

A judge ruled on Friday that Dr O’Brien was “negligent” and said Mrs Brayshaw is entitled to more than £12,700 compensation from him.

Mr Justice Martin Spencer said it was “foreseeable” Mrs Brayshaw might “react adversely” in the way she did.

He said: “By reason of his zealous promotion of the religious aspects, he became blind to the medical aspects and thereby caused or contributed to the deterioration in the claimant’s mental health.

“Accordingly, in my judgment, (Dr O’Brien) is liable to the claimant for the psychiatric damage which she has sustained and its consequences.”

Dr O’Brien took no part in the case and his whereabouts are unknown.

He was investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC) over his conduct towards Mrs Brayshaw and was struck off in 2015.

The judge rejected Mrs Brayshaw’s claim against the partners of Apsley Surgery, in Stoke-on-Trent, where Dr O’Brien worked as a locum.

He found that Marilyn Marathe and Teresa Rushton could not be held responsible for the doctor’s conduct.

Mrs Brayshaw, who has multiple physical and mental health problems, was in pain following an operation when she went to see Dr O’Brien in August 2012.

Her lawyers told the court at an earlier hearing that she was “feeling desperate and her mood was low” and the GP “commended to her a way of healing without medication”.

Over the next six months Dr O’Brien engaged Mrs Brayshaw in a number of religious activities.

These included taking her to services, giving her religious gifts and setting her television to the Gospel channel to “soak” her in religious content.

His wife also gave her a list of “occult” items and she was taken to a meeting where a preacher spoke of sacrificing an owl, which left her “terrified” of the birds and she later became upset when seeing a picture of one.