The seymour tapes, p.9
The Seymour Tapes, p.9Tim Lott
But not completely the wrong end.
Thank you for being frank.
You earned it.
We’ll come back to this later. Let’s return to the first day that Alex started taping. What effect do you think seeing the tape of Macy and Victoria had on him?
He must have been disturbed. As I’ve said before, he was very protective of Victoria. Also, his mother got pregnant at sixteen, and she always said it ruined her life. He was terrified of something similar happening to Victoria.
Why didn’t he just confront her?
He did, in his way. But I suppose he couldn’t be too upfront about it without giving himself away. Also, he had enough sense to realize that the more you forbid a teenage girl, the more she’ll want to do what is forbidden. I think he just wanted to keep a watch on her.
Do you think there was anything sexual in it?
I don’t get you.
In watching them.
No! God, no! What kind of man do you think Alex was? He would have found it painful and embarrassing to watch. Anyway, in a sense the sex wasn’t the biggest thing.
What was, then?
He hated ambiguity, uncertainty. He couldn’t make proper decisions, fair decisions, because there was always so much doubt about the facts and so much dissembling among those on whose behalf he had to make those decisions. With solid information in front of him, I think he thought he could be a better father. A stronger father.
By being a snoop?
He wouldn’t have seen it in that way. You watch your children when they cross the road – you watch them everywhere to see they don’t get harmed. He just saw it as an extension of his protection.
He wouldn’t have viewed it as such. But I suppose so, yes, God and the government.
Did you notice anything significant in the first days of surveil-lance? Anything, for instance, that might have given the game away?
Nothing that actually did give the game away. But it might have done, had I been a bit sharper. For instance, the business with the cigarettes.
What was the situation there?
You already know that we were both meant to have given up. As a New Year resolution.
But you hadn’t.
I did. It lasted about a week. Then I went out one night with a friend, had a few drinks and… well, you know how it is.
You didn’t tell Alex?
It would have discouraged him and he was doing so well. I knew how hard it was for him to give up.
But you were lying to him.
If you want to put it that way.
What did he do after he found out you were cheating – when he’d seen you on the tape?
Nothing. Perhaps he enjoyed knowing something that I didn’t know he knew. Or perhaps he was just trying to be nice. However, he couldn’t resist making a few comments.
What kind of comments?
Just goading me, really. He’d look at me in this very pointed way, and say how he thought we ought to start smoking again, then watch me as I delivered a stern lecture about how there was no going back. Or he would ask me if I missed it very much, and I would make up all this guff.
It can’t have done much to convince him of your honesty about Mark Pengelly.
It was such a stupid thing. I suppose we all like secrets. I had one and it must have given Alex a kick to know that he knew it and that he had a bigger one. It would have soothed his guilt too. I can understand that. In a way, I can understand the appeal of the whole thing.
What did he say about the nanny? After all, the camera was meant to be there to catch her stealing, wasn’t it?
He told me to let her go, even though he thought my suspicions were ill-founded. But I suppose he couldn’t see any way round that one. I was very stubborn about it. I believed she was stealing, and if Alex couldn’t show me any evidence to the contrary, I had sworn that she was going. He had that evidence, I know now. Or, at least, he got evidence later that it was Guy. But he couldn’t show it to me, of course, without disclosing his secret. So I sacked Miranda. Now I feel terrible about it, of course. She was very upset and puzzled. I didn’t even give her the chance to defend herself because I didn’t accuse her. Typically feeble, I just pretended we couldn’t afford a nanny any more. I said I’d give her references and everything. But she was very fond of Polly. I was stupid. Overprotective of Guy. Unfair.
What other effects did putting that front room under surveil-lance have on Alex?
I would say he became more confident. There was definitely something different about him – a new gleam in his eye. For instance, when he sorted out the children’s fights, he was much more resolute.
Presumably, though, relatively few of those fights would have taken place in the front room.
That’s true. Of course, it wasn’t until a week or so later that he put the other camera in. But his new confidence came before that. I think… I think it was because of that first sequence he recorded. With Macy and Victoria. It was what she said about him being weak. I think she meant it kindly. Alex wasn’t weak, but he was soft. We all knew that. Anyway, I believe it was important to him to be strong, to be a real father, and her remark about him being weak really hit home. He told me so before that last visit to Sherry Thomas – he told me it shocked him that Victoria had called him a pussycat.
And you sort of underlined that, didn’t you?
When Victoria said, ‘I can deal with Dad.’ You said, ‘You make it sound like a special achievement.’ Like anyone could deal with him.
God, yes. I suppose you’re right. That’s terrible, isn’t it? Poor Alex. It was only a joke, really. We all loved him. But he was dissatisfied with himself – as a doctor, as a family man, as a husband. Watching those things on tape – well, it was all so misleading for him. Some things are better not known. That way, they can’t be misunderstood.
Did he react to having seen Victoria with Macy on camera?
Not obviously. But he became watchful. Made sure that her door was kept open – at least until he put the camera in there too. But there was something else. He said it the morning after he must have watched the tape. We were all having breakfast. Alex was making pancakes. There were the usual arguments. Guy came down wearing Victoria’s dressing-gown. Claimed that Victoria had borrowed his then mislaid it. Victoria came down, saying she wanted her dressing-gown back, claiming she hadn’t touched Guy’s. The usual unprovable mess. Anyway, out of nowhere, after the argument had died down, he looked at Victoria and said… What were his exact words? I remember he said it very quietly. I had to strain to hear.
What did he say?
He looked right at her, and he said, ‘How could you?’
What did Victoria say?
I don’t think she heard. And I didn’t know what he was talking about, of course.
Was there anything else about that morning?
Yes. He seemed tired – as if he had hardly slept. I now know through his video diaries that he was self-prescribing amphetamines, or some kind of stimulant – I didn’t know about that at the time – just to get him through the day. But he was even worse than usual. Polly had slept well. I didn’t understand it. I assume now that he’d spent half the night looking at the tapes. Anyway, Alex was always circumspect. He often found it hard to come directly to the point. And I remember that morning particularly, because shortly after we’d had breakfast, and Victoria and Guy had gone back upstairs, he asked, out of the blue, if I thought he was weak. Those were his words. ‘Do you think I’m weak?’ I was taken aback. Not so much because of the question but because of his directness. Again, now I can understand why he asked it when he did.
And how did you respond?
I shrugged it off. Told him he was being silly. Then he said he’d overheard Victoria saying she thought he was weak, that he was a pussycat. If I’d taken it up with her at that point, I might have found out what he was doing. After all, there was no way he cou
What did you say when he said Victoria had called him a pussycat?
I said he was a pussycat, but that it didn’t make him weak. Then immediately – I’ve just remembered this – he asked me another direct question. God, yes, that’s right. It was so uncharacteristic.
What did he want to know?
He asked me why we didn’t have sex any more. And I said, rather brutally, that it was because he didn’t seem capable. He should prescribe himself some Viagra, I told him. He said he didn’t need Viagra. The only reason for that was my clear lack of interest. Then I said I didn’t want to talk about it. I quoted his own maxim back at him, that sometimes it was better not to talk about things. ‘Silence can heal’ was what he would say. Alex was always the buttoned-up one, so this was a turning of the tables. He pushed me. Pushed and pushed. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ‘Don’t you fancy me any more?’ That kind of thing. Then he started going on about weakness again, saying how no one ever wanted to abide by the rules. That he was the only one who was tidy, fair, reasonable. He said the family would fall a part if it wasn’t for him, and that it was outrageous to call him weak. He got quite worked up. Then he started calling me a slattern.
Yes, I know. I laughed. I said, ‘Who do you think you are? Samuel Pepys?’ Then he said that it was the right word, that he’d looked it up in the dictionary and that it was from the dialect word ‘slatter’, to slop. He said that was what I did, I slopped everywhere. I thought it was funny. I said, ‘Not everyone wants to live their lives like you, Alex, looking things up in a dictionary.’ Then he said, ‘No one wants to live like me, you just want to walk all over me,’ because, he said, he was nice, he was decent, he wanted to create ‘order out of the chaos’ – that was the phrase he used, ‘order out of the chaos’. I told him to stop being such a victim, then he said he was the victim. I told him to grow up and then… then he did something he never did.
He told me to fuck off. I was completely shocked. I snapped back at him. I wanted to hurt him.
Did you hurt him?
Yes. Of course I hurt him. I was his wife. I knew how.
What did you say?
I said, very calmly and evenly, ‘Do you really want to know why I don’t have sex with you any more?’ And he went all quiet and said, ‘I don’t think I do.’ But I carried on. And I said, ‘It’s because when I look into your eyes I don’t see anyone there.’
Is that really how you felt?
I don’t know. At the time I probably did.
And what did he say?
He said, ‘There’s someone here. I’m here.’ And told me that I didn’t know how to look. Then he walked out. End of conversation. He went up to the loft room briefly. He always went up there when he was upset. Perhaps he started watching the nanny-cam again. Although there was no one in the front room to look at.
Looking back, even at this point, are there any other things you can think of that might have ensured that he continued with the whole thing? After all, as you said yourself, he must have been suffering considerable guilt, and the fear of being found out.
Not really. Other than the fact that he was a doctor.
They’re used to it. Prying into people’s lives. Hearing their secrets. Looking where no one else can. Of course, that didn’t give him licence to do what he did, but it would have been a smaller leap for him than for other people. Being a doctor is like being a snoop.
And also a bit like being God.
Can we switch topics? When did the phone calls from Pamela Geale begin?
According to Alex, the week after he sacked her.
He told you about them?
Not until he decided to confess about the tapes. After which he made a clean breast of it all. The weight of the secrets was crushing him. It went so completely against the grain of who he was.
Did you have any clues before that?
Only with hindsight. A few weeks after Pamela Geale was sacked, he had a call on his mobile. He checked the number, then went to take it in a different room. Afterwards he claimed it had been Toby, his brother. I couldn’t understand why he needed to go next door to talk to him, but there are issues of confidentiality when it comes to medicine so I didn’t think much of it. But it seemed a little strange.
You didn’t suspect at the time that it was Ms Geale?
No. I didn’t imagine she’d start threatening him.
Was she threatening him with claiming that they had had an affair?
It wavered between allegations of sexual harassment and a full-blown affair. And the additional suggestion that he had molested Mrs Madoowbe. It was all a way of trying to get him to see her again. He stalled her. That was when he must have thought of wiring up the surgery. To get himself off the hook. His idea was that if he got Mrs Madoowbe to come into the surgery again and recorded their meeting he would be in the clear.
But surely taping patients secretly is against every rule in the BMA handbook?
I’m not sure that he was thinking clearly at this point. He might have believed that he would rather be hauled up for a breach of client confidentiality than rape. And I think he felt that if the tape exonerated him he would be treated leniently, if it came to that. The end justifying the means, that sort of thing.
Do you think the idea was entirely his own?
I have no way of knowing. Now that we are aware that Sherry Thomas had bugged his mobile phone on his first visit to CSS it seems possible that she made some input. Certainly the tapes show her pushing him in that direction. And it wasn’t to protect him. She just loved the idea of watching patients being examined in the surgery. She was sick. She was a pathological voyeur.
What about Alex? Was he not complicit? Wasn’t he a ‘pathological voyeur’ too?
Not until he met her. Not even then. But he was in deeper than he knew how to deal with.
He bears no responsibility?
What he did was wrong. He knew it. The world knows it now. But he never meant any harm to anybody. And he came clean about it and decided to stop. For God’s sake, his life had been falling apart. He thought I was having an affair, he thought his career was about to be ruined, he thought his daughter was having sex and his son stealing money. It was just a bad patch.
The General Medical Council viewed it differently.
That was just politics. Striking someone off posthumously is absurd. They were just trying to show that they were keeping their house in order – and if they want to do that, they should take some pressure off doctors. And change their complaints procedure so that it isn’t all stacked in favour of the accuser. In fact, I think that CCTV cameras in surgeries would be an excellent idea.
Isn’t that rather at odds with the aims of the Seymour Institute?
Not at all. What we stand against is coercive or secret taping. If it’s fully consensual and optional – for instance, if patients are given the choice of having the camera switched off – then there’s no objection. The Seymour Institute isn’t anti-technology. It’s pro-privacy.
Interview with Dr Toby Seymour
I don’t have very long, I’m afraid. Samantha convinced me to do this, but I’m against it. We should let poor Alex rest in peace. Apart from anything else, I’ve got surgery in ten minutes.
I understand. I’ll be as brief as possible. Dr Seymour, how long did you work with your brother?
More than twenty years. We set up the surgery together. Went to the same medical school. Both of us had wanted to be doctors since we were kids. We were very close.
What kind of a man was he?
This sounds rather ridiculous, but I don’t really know. Not because he turned out to be someone different from whom we’d thought he was, but because he was a closed sort of person. Quite reticent, secretive. A good family man. But it was hard to get much out
There are good patients as well as good doctors. I’m afraid in this practice we don’t have that many good patients any more. Scum, some of them. Wastrels.
You think your patients are scum?
I’m too long in the tooth now to mince my words. I was never an idealist like Alex, but anyone who spends twenty years in a place like this is liable to learn some sharp lessons about human nature. But the good patients we do have seemed to like Alex well enough, although I’m not sure towards the end that it was reciprocated.
He was a very good doctor. I’m just not sure that he liked people any more. A practice like this – it’s very testing. It’s discouraging. I think the thing with Pamela Geale – someone who was meant to be on his side turning against him – was a turning point. He was just finding it harder and harder to sustain being a ‘good’ person, I think. I sometimes got the impression that he felt he’d chosen the wrong career. A job like this does end up as quite unrewarding. You pretty much know what’s wrong with everybody who comes to see you. When you don’t you refer them. It’s not that challenging. It was getting him down. And, of course, he had family problems.
He told you about them?
Not in so many words. Like I say, he was a reticent man. But I could read between the lines. The odd comment here and there. It was obvious that he and Samantha hadn’t been getting on too well. Of course, there was a new baby – that puts pressure on anyone. And he worried about Victoria. I expect you know all this. On top of everything else he felt – well, poor. Nowadays that matters much more than it did when we started out. His house needed work, there were the kids, the car was ten years old. He was at a bit of a low ebb.
Do you think he was having an affair with Pamela Geale?
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