Some of the harshest criticisms made about how the six medical workers died during the Sars outbreak last year were censored from the jury of the coroner's inquest. The criticisms came from Sars experts who presented their reports to the court examining how each medic might have caught Sars at their workplaces and whether the safety measures at the hospitals were adequate. Pages of these reports were substantially deleted before they were presented to the jury, at the request of the lawyer for the Hospital Authority, Adrian Huggins, SC. He argued that the experts had not appeared in court throughout the proceedings to listen to all the evidence given, and that their conclusions were based on statements that had not been presented to the jury. Furthermore, Mr Huggins had tried to persuade Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu not to call any of the five expert witnesses, for the same reasons. Mr Huggins predicted that the only conclusion the jury could come up with was death by natural causes, and that they already had 'all the evidence they needed'. Alice Mok Oi-lai, SC, the lawyer representing the authority's insurance company, agreed with Mr Huggins that some of the comments made by the experts were inappropriate. She suggested that only one expert should be called as a witness, but did not identify who. Both the insurance company and the authority were allowed a legal representative in this case because their interests were at stake. Coroner's officer Arthur Luk Yee-shun, SC, who was responsible for helping the coroner cross-examine witnesses, said it was not possible to have all five medical experts sit through all the court hearings, but agreed to cut the reports. The lawyer for one of the families had no objection to the cuts. Solicitor Damy Lou Iok-kuong said outside of court that the Coroners Ordinance was limiting and that he could not delve into detailed questions, such as what was considered an adequate amount of protective equipment. The compromise reached between the two sides resulted in watered-down versions of the medical reports. Two full pages and several paragraphs were deleted from the 11-page report from Chinese University community medicine professor, Wong Tze-wai. Professor Wong seemed confused, flipping through some blank pages, when he was told in court minutes before presenting his report to the jury that parts had been deleted. The deleted portions included his comments that the medical workers had worked in a 'hazardous' environment from which they had not been adequately protected. He added that the use of the N95 mask must be accompanied by a fitting test to ensure it was worn tightly. Professor Wong was also of the view that lessons were not learned from the Prince of Wales Hospital outbreak because there were subsequent outbreaks in the Tai Po and United Christian hospitals. In the case of Tai Po Hospital doctor Kate Cheng Ha-yan, Professor Wong said it was possible her illness could have been prevented had she been allowed to wear the N100 masks that she had bought for herself. The jury was previously told that Cheng had bought her own masks because she feared there might be a tight supply at the hospital, but a hospital executive told her not to use them because they did not protect the people around her. After a test was conducted, the hospital later allowed those masks to be worn by medical staff. Another Chinese University professor who had his report edited was Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, who headed the Sars team in Prince of Wales Hospital during last year's outbreak. Professor Sung said the guidelines on infection control from the Hospital Authority were appropriate, with the exception of some pitfalls. He said it was difficult for frontline medical workers to access or understand the guidelines and the guidelines were not clear. When he found out about the extractions from his report in court, Professor Sung said: 'I don't quite understand the rationale, but I know this is the procedure.' After expert witnesses concluded their testimonies, the jury was told on Monday to choose from the only verdict possible in this inquest: death by natural causes. The five-person jury took several hours to deliberate on their decision, during which they took a break to ask the coroner the meaning of death by natural causes. It is unknown whether the jury might have been given another option, had they been allowed to see the deleted evidence. But what is obvious is that one of the duties of Mr Huggins' at the Coroner's inquest was to represent the authority in the most effective manner possible. The authority appeared to be working with a 'view to limiting or killing off a verdict or evidence that is critical of their performance', said barrister Neville Sarony, SC, who specialises in medical malpractice lawsuits. 'Their objective is to limit any evidence which could be interpreted as being critical of the Hospital Authority, in order to protect themselves from civil claims,' he added. Even though Mr Huggins said experts had made their conclusions based on statements from witnesses who were not presented to the jury, Mr Sarony said the coroner had the option to call those witnesses in if he wanted the evidence to be heard. But that was not done. Mr Luk, the coroner's officer, said another reason for certain deletions in the reports was that the content surpassed the ambit of the inquest. The verdict of this inquest does not hold any implications to civil lawsuits, but the evidence that was presented in court could be used as a reference for future claims. Tim Pang Hung-cheong, patients' rights advocate at the Society for Community Organisation, who is helping some Sars victims organise lawsuits, said lawyers were examining some of the evidence made in court to see whether they would be useful in a civil claim. They included comments from the experts who said Sars could be an airborne-transmitted disease under certain environmental circumstances. Comments about the reuse of the protective gear might also be useful, Mr Pang said.