Child inquiry postponed

The public inquiry into Hyponatraemia-related Deaths was announced in 2004

The public inquiry into Hyponatraemia-related Deaths was announced in 2004

The inquiry into the deaths of a number of children from suspected fluid overload in hospitals here has been postponed until next year, The Detail can reveal. A solicitor representing the parents of nine-year-old Raychel Ferguson, whose died in 2001, said the family was “appalled” that one of the hospital trusts involved says it has only now discovered documents relating to the death of one of the children.

The public hearings were due to begin in November, seven years after it was first set up. It will now be at least February 2012 before proceedings start and next Autumn before closing submissions are heard.

One of the main causes cited as the reason behind the delay points to new documents that were only discovered by the Belfast Trust on the 11th October. Previously, the Trusts had claimed to have handed over all documents in relation to the deaths of Adam Strain, Claire Roberts, Lucy Crawford and Raychel Ferguson. In an announcement made by the Inquiry Chairman, John O’ Hara QC said:

“We have received from the Belfast Trust in recent days a number of haematology and biochemistry laboratory reports including biochemistry report for Adam (Strain) from the evening of 26 November 1995 which has not been recorded in his notes.

“We had previously been informed by the solicitor on behalf of the Belfast Trust that the medical staff rotas were destroyed in accordance with Trust Policy. On the 11 October 2011 we were informed that those rotas in connection with Claire’s (Roberts) case in 1996 have now been located. We must now investigate whether those rotas in relation to Adam’s case have actually been destroyed or not.”

The Inquiry into Hyponatreamia-related Deaths, was established in 2004 and was primarily set up to investigate the deaths of Adam Strain, Claire Roberts and Raychel Ferguson

David Hunter, of Hunter Solicitors, represents the family of Adam Strain.

“The family are extremely disappointed and upset at the cancellation of the oral hearing stage of the inquiry at such a late stage.

“Adam’s mother has been under a lot of pressure and strain especially coming up to the last few months in the lead up to what we thought was going to be the start of the inquiry.

“But we realise the importance of this inquiry, not just locally but internationally, and if further investigation helps to establish the truth about what happened to Adam and if lessons are truly learnt so that in the future lives, especially of children, are saved then this final delay will have been worth the frustration and pain suffered by the family over the last seven years."

At the previous progress hearing in September of this year, the chairman laid out a schedule and provided a breakdown of how proceedings would unfold in the coming months.

He claimed it was critical that the cases run in this order and that to take any of the events out of sequence would increase the likelihood to recall witnesses again at the later stage of the inquiry. The schedule has now completely changed, with the inquiry now taking place over a period of 20 weeks between February and November of next year.

Derry solicitor Des Doherty, who represents the family of Raychel Ferguson, told The Detail that Raychel’s mother Marie had been devastated by the news.

“She is appalled distressed and perturbed that more documentation is now being revealed by one trust in particular at this late stage. Arrangements were already made to be in attendance at this inquiry, which bearing in mind is in Banbridge. This was always going to be extremely difficult for her travelling from Derry, and now all the arrangements that have been made are in disarray."

Raychel’s case won’t be heard until the 11th June next year, which is on the anniversary of her death, 11 years later.

Des Doherty said:

“I can’t express enough the deep anguish felt by the parents of Raychel it only adds further to an already highly emotional set of circumstances in actually dealing with the inquiry. What needs to happen now is that all the trusts, including the western and Altnagelvin hospital must ensure that they produce all documentation. The time for delay is over.”

The Belfast trust would not comment on ongoing inquiries. Previous delays in the inquiry were the result of police inquiries into the deaths of the children. One of the solicitors involved in the inquiry told The Detail there is a serious question mark over the PSNI investigations given that a Trust has admitted that it only now has discovered documentation relating to Adam’s death.

The Inquiry’s Chairman, John O’Hara QC, commented:

“We greatly regret this delay, and offer our sincere apologies to the families and other parties involved in the Inquiry.

“Chronologically, Adam’s death is the earliest of those we are investigating and it is vital that we get the facts right in his case, if each of the cases we are examining is to be dealt with properly.

“I am determined that this Inquiry will be robust and thorough and believe that a relatively short delay, while regrettable, is essential if the Inquiry is to do its job properly.”

The Chairman is now seeking authority from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on a revised completion date.