Doctor wins libel suit against woman but judge says case sullies his professional reputation

There is an injunction against Ms Serene Tiong publishing defamatory words against Dr Julian Ong. PHOTOS: DRJULIANONG.SG, SERENE TIONG/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The doctor who sued a woman for libel after she made allegations that he and another doctor had taken advantage of vulnerable female patients to have sex with them has won his case.

The High Court on Friday (Oct 2) overturned a District Court's dismissal of the libel suit by private colorectal surgeon Dr Julian Ong against Ms Serene Tiong, who had an extra-marital affair with Dr Chan Herng Nieng, then a psychiatrist at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

The allegations were directed at the two doctors.

In his decision, Justice See Kee Oon said that although Dr Ong has won the case, both he and Dr Chan "do not have any reason to hold their heads high".

He said their "smug boasts of their trysts with various women, as well as the demeaning terms in which they gloatingly describe their sexual conquests, speak to their true character".

Ms Tiong had made the allegations in June 2018, in a complaint she lodged with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC). She also e-mailed the complaint to other doctors at SGH and in private practice.

Ms Tiong did this after discovering WhatsApp messages between Dr Chan and Dr Ong. She had accused the doctors of taking advantage of, and using their positions to "source" and "groom" vulnerable female patients and colleagues for sex.

Justice See said the main allegation is that of colluding and taking advantage of vulnerable woman patients.

He did not accept the district judge's findings that Ms Tiong was one of Dr Chan's vulnerable women patients, noting that she already had an intimate relationship with him before he provided her with Xanax for her anxiety.

Dr Ong had said that he was not aware that Dr Chan had prescribed medicine to Ms Tiong.

Justice See said the allegation of "collusion" between the two doctors to take advantage of Ms Tiong as a female patient was therefore not made out.

However, Justice See upheld the district judge's finding that what Dr Ong did in giving the telephone number of one of his patients, referred to as K, to Dr Chan for him to "try his luck at getting her to have sex" was tantamount to colluding to take advantage of K.

But he said K was one patient, and does not constitute vulnerable patients in plural, something Ms Tiong had alleged in her complaint.

"There must be evidence of more than one patient who had been targeted, as K's case may have been purely a one-off instance of a patient who became a possible sex target," he added.

Justice See said the district judge's views may have been tainted with regards to Ms Tiong's accusation that the doctors had taken advantage of four women colleagues.

Two could not be proven as colleagues, and the other two were not "potential target of collusion".

Justice See said the only pattern revealed is that the two doctors were "consummate opportunists, constantly looking out for women with sex in mind".

But the examples did not show any collusion between them to take advantage of vulnerable women or colleagues, he added.

He also found that Ms Tiong shot out her missives to the SMC and others on her own admitted "impressionistic view", and that her view was somewhat jaundiced and not wholly sustainable.

While Justice See found in favour of Dr Ong, he said Dr Chan's admission to touching his colleague inappropriately in the past "may be a matter for the SMC to consider looking into further".
He added that this case may prove a Pyrrhic victory for Dr Ong.

"They may be perfectly competent doctors and their sex lives are of course private matters. But their blatant treatment of women as sex objects sullies whatever professional reputation they might have built up for themselves," he added.

Damages to be paid by Ms Tiong will be assessed by the District Court. There is also an injunction against her publishing defamatory words against Dr Ong.

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