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Families question delay to Gosport War Memorial Hospital deaths inquests

Lawyers representing families whose loved ones died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital have written to the Hampshire Coroner to question why inquests have been delayed until after the conclusion of a separate police investigation, Operation Magenta.

Posted on 22 November 2021

Coroner Christopher Wilkinson has been asked to reconsider his decision or to explain the legal basis for the move which alarmed families when it was announced after inquests were opened on 14 October, 2021.

At the hearing at Portsmouth Coroners Court, the senior coroner said his investigation would be subject to the outcomes of Operation Magenta, the Kent and Essex police investigation that opened in 2019 following the publication of the independent inquiry into more than 700 deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1987 and 2001.

However, following a forum meeting on 20 October when families were told police investigators had three million separate items to be scanned, stored and reviewed as part of “the most complex and significant investigation of its nature in the country”, it has become clear that they could be left waiting for years before the inquests resume.

At the latest Hampshire County Council police and crime panel meeting, Hampshire and Isle of Wight police and crime commissioner Donna Jones is reported as saying that the Operation Magenta investigation could go on for another four years.

In a further complication, it emerged at the 14 October hearing that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has ordered Hampshire Police to respond to a family’s complaint of corruption in the original police investigations into deaths at Gosport.

Leigh Day partner Emma Jones represents the families whose loved ones’ inquests were opened and adjourned on 14 October.

In her letter to Coroner Wilkinson, she said she is aware of several inquests that have run in parallel to a police investigation, such as those into the deaths of people at Hillsborough, and therefore she does not believe it is necessary to adjourn the inquests.

Inquests were opened into the deaths of

  • Clifford Houghton who died aged 71 after he was admitted to Gosport War Memorial Hospital in February, 1994, for what was meant to be a period of respite. He died on the same day he was given two doses of diamorphine because of “deterioration”. The 2018 review panel concluded that Mr Houghton was given opioids without appropriate clinical indication. His stepdaughter Pamela Byrne believes there is reason to suspect her stepfather died a violent or unnatural death.
  • Dulcie Middleton who died aged 86 in September, 2001, three months after she was admitted to Gosport hospital for rehabilitation following a stroke. Her nephew and daughter, David Wilson and Marjorie Bulbeck, say Mrs Middleton’s treatment at the hospital was neglectful and inhumane, she was not assisted with food and became dehydrated and was denied basic nursing care.
  • Eva Page, 88, who was transferred to Dryad Ward in the Hospital from Queen Alexander (Portsmouth) on 27 February 1998. Mrs Page was prescribed morphine and given her first dose on 2 March 1998 and another dose on 3 March 1998. In addition, she was prescribed Midazolam and received Fentanyl through a skin patch. She died on 3 March 1998. It was concluded in the Report that Mrs Page’s case was a case of opioid usage without appropriate clinical indication.
  • Horace Smith who was first admitted to Gosport Hospital on 30 March 1999, having been transferred from Haslar Hospital. He was 73 years old. On admission to Gosport he was prescribed diamorphine. His was given his first dose on 5 April 1999 and died the following day.

Emma Jones said:

“The families we represent have been waiting many years for a full account of the circumstances surrounding their deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. To make them wait for another indeterminate length of time, when many of the families are themselves elderly, is not acceptable and in any event is quite clearly unnecessary. We are asking the coroner to think again.”

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Emma Jones

Emma Jones

Emma runs the team working on the contaminated blood inquiry 

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