Psychiatrist Denies Influencing Patient who left him £1.5m

A leading psychiatrist from the Priory clinic was accused at an inquest yesterday of persuading a wealthy spinster to change her will and leave her £1.5m estate to him. Peter Rowan, who set up the eating disorders unit at the exclusive private clinic in Roehampton, south-west London, was challenged about his relationship with his patient Patricia May, 66, when he appeared at her inquest at Westminster coroner’s court yesterday.

Friends of Ms May, a former actor, claimed at the hearing that she had been infatuated with Dr Rowan and had changed her will in his favour shortly before she died. They alleged the cocktail of drugs he had prescribed for her anxiety and depression may have contributed to her death in 2003.

Ms May died from complications at Chelsea and Westminster hospital after slipping in her bath in March 2003.

Giving evidence yesterday, Milagros Golding, a family friend, said she had talked about changing her will in her psychiatrist’s favour shortly before she died.

“Dr Rowan had suggested writing a new one, leaving everything to him and some money to friends,” she said. “He would then ensure the friends were taken care of, and that would save her a lot of time and lawyers’ fees.

“He used to visit Patricia once a week and we were aware that he would prescribe various medication.

“She said she had to send a cheque to Dr Rowan once a month for the pills, so I asked why she couldn’t just give him cash, but she said she couldn’t because then she wouldn’t be considered a professional patient.” The coroner’s court heard that Dr Rowan had received cash gifts of £150,000, and taken his two daughters on skiing holidays paid for by Ms May. The court heard he was the principal beneficiary of her will, which was estimated to be around £1.5m.

Following Ms May’s death there was a police investigation, but no charges were laid. Her body was never subjected to a postmortem examination and she was cremated.

Giving evidence at the hearing yesterday, Dr Rowan said he had never influenced Ms May to give him gifts.

He had been treating her for anxiety and depression and began to visit her at home in the last six months before she died because she was too dependent on her oxygen tank to leave her house.

He denied knowing of her “infatuation” with him, despite her having a picture of him and his daughters on her mantlepiece. He said: “I personally had no reason to believe infatuation was there. I knew she was fond of me and a close relationship developed over the 16 years. I listened, counselled and supported her and did the best to help her.

“Often the target of infatuation can be the last person to know, but there was no indication to make me feel she was infatuated with me.”

Dr Rowan had prescribed Ms May the sleeping pill temazepam, larazepam for her anxiety and an antidepressant, clomipramine.

He denied any of these would have contributed to her death.

“It is highly unlikely that the drugs I prescribed contributed to her death, and she wouldn’t have developed a dependency on them as it was already clear she wouldn’t live a long number of years,” he said. “The antidepressants I used are for patients who have high anxiety levels and obsessional symptoms. It is particularly good for patients who have anorexia nervosa and it helped Patricia a great deal.”

Dr Rowan did not tell Ms May’s GP about the drugs he was prescribing. Asked why, he said his patient had asked him to keep it a secret.

When she became more ill in 2002, Dr Rowan said he asked her again about informing her GP. He said: “I asked her to write in the notes that these were her decisions and we discussed it.

“She wrote, ‘I confirm I have specifically asked Dr Rowan not to have any contact with any other doctors, this has been the case for several years’.”

Another close friend of Ms May’s described her infatuation with the psychiatrist to the inquest yesterday.

Kathy Ashun said: “I asked her what the situation was, if she was having a relationship with the doctor and if they were lovers or what.

“She said, ‘Oh no not that, just some kissing and cuddling’. I said do you you think he would be interested in you if you didn’t have any money? She said, ‘That’s what I’m worried about.’ “

The inquest continues.