The practitioner was examined on March 8 in Besançon (Doubs) for suspicion of poisoning on two new patients, including one fatal. He must again be heard by the investigating judge on Wednesday.
This is an unprecedented case that came to light in 2017. Doctor Frédéric Péchier is suspected of being the cause of 26 poisonings of patients, including 10 fatalities, when he was an anesthetist in Besançon (Doubs), between 2008 and 2016.
The practitioner, who was previously indicted for 24 poisonings, was “for two cases” new, including a fatal one, on March 8, announced to the press the public prosecutor of Besançon, Étienne Manteaux. Frédéric Péchier is again questioned by the investigating judge in charge of the investigation, Wednesday March 22, from 9:30 a.m., the prosecutor and the lawyer for the anesthetist confirmed to franceinfo. He could again be indicted, this time for five new cases. Franceinfo returns to this extraordinary case.
Who is Frédéric Péchier?
Anesthesiologist-resuscitator, Frédéric Péchier, now 51 years old, is a man of imposing stature. He spent most of his professional career at the Saint-Vincent clinic in Besançon, “with a stay of a few months, in 2009, at the polyclinic of Franche-Comté”specified The Parisian in 2019.
“He’s an excellent doctor, very skilled in intensive care, one of the best. As soon as we had a serious problem with a patient, we called him”, then confided to the daily one of his colleagues. Despite this good reputation, Frédéric Péchier was not appreciated by all his colleagues, because he had fallen out with some of them.
Why is he suspected of having committed more than twenty poisonings?
The affair began at the end of 2016, when an anesthetist colleague of the doctor gave the alert after three unexplained cardiac arrests of his patients in full operation. A particular case “ask questions”, according The Parisian : that of a 36-year-old woman “in good health, who comes for a trivial back operation and has a cardiac arrest in the middle of the operation”. A serious adverse event (EIG), which professionals are required to report to health authorities, is reported. An investigation is launched: it concludes with a poisoning.
Justice takes over the case. In January 2017, a judicial inquiry was opened and two months later, Frédéric Péchier was indicted for seven cases of patient poisoning. At the same time, a preliminary investigation into other facts is open. She drives, in 2019, to the examination of the anesthetist for 17 new cases, which brings to 24 the number of patients concerned, aged 4 to 80 years. Since then, justice has ordered expert opinions on eight additional cases, i.e. a total of 32 potential cases of poisoning.
On March 8, the investigating judge questioned Frédéric Péchier on SAEs that occurred between 2008 and 2012, among which were three new cases. In the process, the doctor was indicted for the case that occurred on September 25, 2009 and for another, fatal, dating back to December 11, 2012, the public prosecutor of Besançon told franceinfo. Etienne Manteaux also confirms that the investigating judge placed him under the status of assisted witness for a third SAE which occurred on March 23, 2012, because for this one, the experts “cannot establish certain poisoning”.
How and why is he suspected of having acted?
Frédéric Péchier is suspected of having “polluted hydration pockets or paracetamol pockets”, connected by infusion to patients, with local anesthetics or potassium, explained the Besançon prosecutor in May 2019. “The poison drips out and causes cardiac arrest”, had then exposed Etienne Manteaux during a press conference. “Since no one imagined poisoning, only the local anesthetics administered during the operation were searched in the blood. This always went unnoticed”he specified.
“The author of these poisonings was never caught in the act”, admitted the prosecutor. But for the magistrate, Doctor Péchier is “the common denominator” of these adverse events that occurred in the two Besançon clinics. Omnipresent, he makes early diagnoses of potassium overdoses and, unlike all his colleagues, is never affected by an SAE.
Why would he poison patients? Investigators put forward two motivations. First, they suspect him of having acted in “arsonist firefighter” : he would have caused cardiac arrests or operational incidents to better demonstrate later his talents as a resuscitator. But his interventions would also have made it possible to discredit his colleagues, with whom he was “in acute conflict”according to the prosecutor.
Does he still have the right to practice?
For the moment no. Following his multiple indictments, the judge of freedoms and detention did not place Frédéric Péchier in pre-trial detention, but left him free under judicial control. With two prohibitions: residing in the Doubs and practicing as an anesthesiologist. His judicial review was recently lightened for the first ban, which allowed him to return to the Doubs to see his family.
So that he can resume a professional activity, his lawyers had seized the chamber of the instruction to request authorization to receive patients again. In January, the Besançon Court of Appeal responded favorably to this request, on two conditions: that Frédéric Péchier only practice as a general practitioner and not as an anesthetist on the one hand, and that he obtain the agreement of the Council of the College of Physicians on the other hand. But the Besançon public prosecutor seized the investigating judge in charge of the case following this decision. The latter finally issued, on February 27, an order which completely prohibits the accused from practicing medicine. His lawyers have appealed this decision, on which justice will decide in mid-April.
What is his version of the facts?
Frédéric Péchier has been claiming his innocence since the start of the case. “Why would I do such a thing? (…) Under the pretext of adrenaline – as if we didn’t have enough – I would have fun injecting toxic products into people and then resuscitating them? It’s completely absurd”he was indignant in the columns of The Republican East in 2017. According the regional daily (article reserved for subscribers)the former anesthetist attempted suicide in September 2021. He then had entrusted to want “die innocent”. Today, he retains this “position”, according to one of his advisers, Randall Schwerdorffer.
Although he believes he is being unfairly prosecuted, Frédéric Péchier preferred to remain silent, as he has the right to, when he was summoned on March 8. “The investigating judge asked all her questions. He didn’t answer any. It’s a choice of his defense.” details to franceinfo his lawyer.
With the exception of “two cases”in which the infusion bags were found and could be analyzed, and for which his client is not, according to him, “not involved”Randall Schwerdorffer disputes the materiality of the poisonings for which his client is indicted. “We are skeptical. Many cases are nebulous. Are they really poisonings? The experts have no formal answer”, assures the lawyer.
Why was he not heard from for four years?
Before his summons before the investigating judge on March 8, Frédéric Péchier had not been heard by as part of the investigation since 2019. A long period which is explained by technical considerations. To find out if there was indeed poisoning, expert reports have indeed were carried out, then counter-expertise… followed by a third series of expert opinions. Which took a long time. In early March, prosecutor Etienne Manteaux explained to franceinfo that the investigating judge had received fifteen “counter-counter-expertise” out of the 32 expected. “The first counter-experts have returned a lacunary work”, also lamented the magistrate. These elements are however decisive to allow the investigating judge to continue his interrogations on concrete facts.
“It’s an extraordinary, complex file, and the experts have done their job badly or not,” regrets Frédéric Berna, lawyer for civil parties. But in his eyes, this is not the only reason which justifies the slowness of the instruction. “The defense multiplies the appeals and the ridiculous incidents”, he denounces to franceinfo. The lawyer, who defends the victims linked to about fifteen cases, adds: “Doctor Péchier is doing everything to delay the progress of the file, when we are fighting for it to move forward. It is very revealing.”
Will there ever be a trial?
This is what the civil parties are calling for. “The victims feel deep contempt: it’s unbearable. They are waiting for a trial, only asking for that”, insists Frédéric Berna. But the decision to refer Frédéric Péchier to an assize court after six years of investigations is up to the investigating judge. As summarized The Republican EastIt’s hers “to determine (…) whether this talented anesthetist deserves to be sent before a jury to explain himself on this affair, which admittedly has no equivalent in France”. However, the defense of Frédéric Péchier feeds “a lot of suspicion” vis-à-vis the magistrate in charge of the case, and is considering a motion for recusal. “For a fair criminal trial, there must be a fair investigation, not just for the prosecution”insists Randall Schwerdorffer.
I didn’t have time to read everything, can you give me a summary?
The anesthesiologist Frédéric Péchier is suspected of having committed 26 poisonings, including ten fatalities, when he was practicing at the Saint-Vincent clinic in Besançon, between 2008 and 2016. He was indicted for these cases, and could be again, for another five. The doctor, banned from exercising his activity, proclaims his innocence, but chose silence in front of the examining magistrate during his last interrogation. The civil parties hope that the investigation opened in 2017 will one day lead to a trial, while his defense denounces an instruction against him. The expertise is an issue at the heart of this sprawling, complex and unprecedented file: if all the cases of poisoning were proven, it would be unheard of in France.
Source: France TV Info