The extraordinary fantasy life and lonely death of a New Zealand woman hailed as a heroine after the July 7 bombings in London may be a parable of our celebrity-obsessed times. Or it may be the tragic story of an earnest young woman afflicted by chronic ill health.
However her career is judged, Richmal Oates-Whitehead -- whose body was found 10 days ago in a flat in Shepherd's Bush, west London -- has left behind a confused and contradictory trail over which former friends, colleagues and the medical establishment are still puzzling.
The police appear to have discounted rumors that she committed suicide. The British Medical Association (BMA) on Sunday confirmed that it had held an investigation into how she came to be employed but declined to reveal the outcome.
Oates-Whitehead gained national prominence in her native country thanks to media coverage of the suicide bombing which destroyed the number 30 bus in Tavistock Square outside the headquarters of the BMA. She worked there as editor of Clinical Evidence, an online edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ). After the blast she appears to have left the building, alongside medically trained staff intent on bringing first aid assistance to survivors.
Precisely what her role was that morning remains uncertain. The 35-year-old always carried a stethoscope in her handbag. She later told the Weekend Herald, a New Zealand newspaper, that she had been helping the injured in a makeshift hospital set up in a hotel next door to the BMA when two firefighters approached her for help. Her account also included a controlled detonation of a second bomb.
But police had no record of a controlled explosion in Tavistock Square; moreover, she was not a doctor. Her name does not appear on either the UK or New Zealand medical council registers.
Coverage of the London bombings triggered suspicions. Intrigued, the Auckland papers began inquiries. On Aug. 15 the New Zealand Herald published a story headlined: "Doctor status of NZ bomb heroine questioned." It disclosed that the BMA was investigating her qualifications. Other papers published similarly skeptical stories.
Their reports unearthed a bizarre pattern. Oates-Whitehead, it emerged, had claimed to be the victim of a stalker, had described herself in some e-mails as a professor, told some friends she had been diagnosed with cancer and informed others she had lost twins born prematurely who lived for only a day.
Challenged by the BMA about her status, she resigned. On Aug. 17, alerted by her concerned family, police went to her flat and found her dead. Initial suspicions focused on the belief that, faced with the humiliation of her exposure and the loss of her job, she might have committed suicide.
But a postmortem report found that she had died of a "pulmonary embolism," or blood clot on the lungs.
In fact, Oates-Whitehead did have a medical background. She trained for a year as a radiation therapist in 1991, which included an internship at Auckland Hospital. She had a postgraduate diploma in health-service management. She also suffered from epilepsy.
She had always dreamed of being a doctor, the New Zealand Sunday Star-Times told its readers. It quoted an interview with a Sydney forensic psychiatrist, Anthony Samuels, who suggested that she may been suffering from borderline personality disorder, and may have posed as a doctor to satisfy a psychological need.
"It is a sad case," he said. "People with borderline personality disorders often get into caring professions because they have so much need themselves and it distracts them from their own pain."
‘COVERT’ ACTIVITY: The High Court ruled against a Chinese-born Australian former adviser to a state lawmaker, who allegedly advanced ‘policy goals of a foreign principal’ A Chinese-born Australian political adviser yesterday lost his challenge in Australia’s highest court against laws banning covert foreign interference in domestic politics. John Zhang (張智森) also lost his Australian High Court challenge in a unanimous decision of seven judges to the validity of search warrants executed by police at his Sydney home and offices last year as part of an investigation into illegal foreign interference on behalf of China. Zhang was an adviser to New South Wales Lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane, whose membership in the opposition Labor Party was suspended after he was also the target of police raids. The raids in June last
Scores of dead bodies have been found floating down the Ganges River in eastern India as the country battles a ferocious surge in COVID-19 infections. Authorities on Tuesday said that they have not yet determined the cause of death. Health officials working through Monday night retrieved 71 bodies, officials in Bihar state said. Images on social media of the bodies floating in the river prompted outrage and speculation that they died from COVID-19. Authorities performed post mortems on Tuesday, but said that they could not confirm the cause of death due to the decomposition of the bodies. More corpses were found floating in
‘DECOMPOSED’: The Uttar Pradesh government said it would offer financial aid to poor families to help them cover funeral costs and prevent dumping of bodies Bodies of COVID-19 victims have been found dumped in some Indian rivers, a state government said in a letter seen by reporters, the first official acknowledgement of an alarming practice it said might stem from poverty and fear of the disease in villages. Images of corpses drifting down the Ganges River, which Hindus consider holy, have shocked a nation reeling under the world’s worst surge in infections. Although media have linked the recent increase in the numbers of such bodies to the COVID-19 pandemic, Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, has until now not publicly revealed the cause of the deaths. “The
The University of California (UC) would stop considering SAT and ACT scores that are submitted with admission and scholarship applications under a settlement of a student lawsuit, the school said on Friday. The 10-campus system, which has more than 280,000 students in California, decided not to continue fighting a judge’s injunction issued last year that barred it from considering the scores for admission even when they were submitted voluntarily, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Activists have long argued that standardized tests put minority and low-income students at a disadvantage. Critics say that test questions often contain inherent bias that more privileged children