A tattooist who called himself “Dr Evil” has admitted causing grievous bodily harm to three customers by carrying out a tongue-splitting procedure and removing an ear and a nipple.
Brendan McCarthy, who ran Dr Evil’s Body Modification Emporium in Wolverhampton, changed his pleas to guilty on Tuesday after a two-year legal saga in which he unsuccessfully claimed the consent of his customers provided him with a lawful defence.
The 50-year-old, from Bushbury, Wolverhampton, who was bailed to appear for sentencing on March 21, carried out the ear removal at his studio in 2015 without using anaesthetic, three years after he split a woman’s tongue with a scalpel and removed a third customer’s nipple.
McCarthy first appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court in 2017, when he denied six counts relating to the three procedures.
Judge Amjad Nawaz ruled that the registered tattooist could not use his clients’ written permission as a defence after considering precedent set by previous prosecutions, including one in which a husband branded his wife’s buttocks with a hot knife.
McCarthy then took his case to the Court of Appeal, contending that the procedures should be regarded as lawful to protect the “personal autonomy” of his customers.
But three judges at the Court of Appeal, including the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, threw out McCarthy’s appeal.
In their 12-page ruling, the appeal court judges – who noted that McCarthy had divided a customer’s tongue “to produce an effect similar to that enjoyed by reptiles” – said the procedures were not comparable to tattoos and piercings.
Although they accepted evidence that the ear removal had been done quite well, the judges said it was not in the public interest that a person could wound another for no good reason.
Rejecting the defence submissions, the ruling stated: “The case advanced by the appellant is that the procedures he conducted, albeit that they caused really serious harm, should be immunised from the criminal law of assault, just as surgical procedures performed by medical practitioners and those who take part in properly organised boxing matches attract protection.
“There is, to our minds, no proper analogy between body modification, which involves the removal of parts of the body or mutilation as seen in tongue-splitting, and tattooing, piercing or other body adornment.
“What the defendant undertook for reward in this case was a series of medical procedures for no medical reason.
“Those seeking body modification of the sort we are concerned with in this appeal invited the appellant to perform irreversible surgery without anaesthetic with profound long-term consequences.
“The fact that a desire to have an ear or nipple removed or tongue split is incomprehensible to most, may not be sufficient in itself to raise the question whether those who seek to do so might be in need of a mental health assessment.
“The personal autonomy of his customers does not provide the appellant with a justification for removing body modification from the ambit of the law of assault.”
An online petition which attracted 13,000 signatures was set up in 2017 to support the “knowledgable, skilful and hygienic” body piercer, who was refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The petition, urging members of the body modification community to stand together, stated: “Please sign to show your support for Mac and for the right to express ourselves in whatever modified manner we wish in a safe environment.
“Because Barbie & Ken aren’t everyone’s idea of beautiful.”
Before McCarthy entered his pleas, prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC told Judge Nawaz: “Your Honour is familiar with the history of the case – avenues of appeal having been exhausted.”
Defence counsel Andrew Smith QC said he would be arguing that McCarthy should not be jailed given the “particular facts” of the case.
Adjourning the case for the preparation of a pre-sentence report, Judge Nawaz told McCarthy, who ran premises in nearby Princess Alley, that the granting of bail did not indicate what form of sentence would be passed.
The judge said: “These are serious matters. Ordinarily a sentence of custody would be inevitable but there are differences in this case.”
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said McCarthy has no medical qualifications and is not registered with The General Medical Council.
Rhiannon Jones, a senior Crown prosecutor at the CPS, said: “This case confirms the existing law that surgical procedures must be carried out by properly trained, qualified and regulated surgeons or health care professionals.
“McCarthy was none of these and as a result his surgical procedures, albeit carried out at the request of his clients, were unlawful. The Court of Appeal judgement is clear and unequivocal and we would urge all those thinking of carrying out a body modification to please read it.
McCarthy, who was bailed with a condition that he does not undertake surgical procedures, will be sentenced on March 21.