A FORMER paramedic who groped a patient in the back of an ambulance has been cleared of misconduct in public office.

William Thomas Mitchell admitted the charge at a hearing at Durham Crown Court in December, after his barrister, David Comb, failed to convince a judge the charge should not apply to paramedics, as they do not hold ‘public office’.

But, after the ruling was challenged at the Criminal Court of Appeal, a trio of leading judges agreed with Mr Comb and quashed the conviction.

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Mr Mitchell, 57, of Fencehouses, near Houghton-le-Spring, fondled the breasts of the female patient as she apparently lapsed in and out of consciousness after being picked up from her home following an emergency call, on April 18 last year.

He also put her hand on his groin, while apparently assisting the 58-year-old woman as the ambulance made its way to hospital.

She suffered a similar episode the next day and rang 999, complaining about the paramedic’s inappropriate behaviour the previous day.

Presiding over the appeal, Sir Brian Leveson said while the court “deprecated” what he did, he should not have been charged with the offence as a paramedic was not, a public official.

Sitting with Lady Justice Thirlwall and Mr Justice Lewis, he said paramedics and other health workers owed a care of duty to individuals and to their employers, rather than to the wider public.

Sir Brian said Mr Mitchell, “failed in his duty to his patient and his employers."

The judge said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) gave “cogent reasons” why it was felt inappropriate to seek a prosecution for a sexual offence, charging him, instead, with misconduct in a public office.

Following the patient’s complaint, Mr Mitchell failed to attend an internal disciplinary hearing and resigned from the North East Ambulance Service, which dismissed him, anyway, in his absence.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) subsequently suspended him from working in the health service.

It will review the position at a hearing in coming weeks.

Mr Comb told the Appeal Court that, to his knowledge, no-one working for the NHS has been prosecuted for misconduct in public office, in its 66-year history.

He added that misconduct by health workers is dealt with by disciplinary bodies such as the HCPC.

Challenging his submissions, Alison Levitt QC, for the CPS, argued, unsuccessfully, that paramedics do meet the criteria of ‘public office’ as they are front line staff, responding to emergencies.