Family of "baby 3" want death investigated under corporate manslaughter legislation

Taps were identified as the source of the infection

Taps were identified as the source of the infection

By Niall McCracken

THE solicitor for the family of “Baby 3” has written to the PSNI asking them to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of their baby under corporate manslaughter legislation.

While there has only been one successful conviction here under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (2007), Belfast solicitor Ernie Waterworth believes the family of the third baby to die of pseudomonas at the Royal Victoria Maternity Hospital, who he represents, has an extremely strong case.

Following the death of three babies at the Royal Jubilee Maternity service in January 2012 and one baby at Altnagelvin hospital in December 2011, the Health Minister appointed Professor Pat Troop to chair a review into the circumstances contributing to the occurrences of pseudomonas infection within the neonatal units.

Last week, Walter Hegarty, the solicitor for the family of the first baby to die at Altnaglevin Hospital in December 2011, said in a BBC interview that police should now become involved to see whether or not charges should be brought under corporate manslaughter legislation.

Meanwhile the family of “Baby 3” are said to have become increasingly frustrated as they or their legal team have yet to receive any direct contact from the Belfast Trust or the Department of Health following the publication of the full report into the pseudomonas outbreak last week.

In a previous article Belfast solicitor, Ernie Waterworth of McCartan Turkington & Breen law firm, told The Detail that the family of Baby 3 thought the report into the outbreak was “patronising” and criticised it for failing to address specific concerns flagged up by the family, despite previous assurances by the Health Minister himself.

Mr Waterworth revealed then that on January 14th 2012 – 5 days before Baby 3’s death – a nurse phoned Baby 3’s mother advising that their baby’s skin had been torn while attempting to place an intravenous line. However, when the family requested medical records following their baby’s death, they contained no reference to this incident.

The family’s legal team have now referred the matter to the PSNI and the health and Safety Executive (HSE) for consideration.

In the letter Mr Waterworth states:

“The allegation is one of ‘corporate manslaughter’, a very serious charge with a very high threshold before a conviction would succeed. However, if the circumstances of this particular case are considered closely it is apparent that gross failings did occur.

“One of the major events in relation to baby [XXXX] is on 14th January 2012 when a nurse tore his skin while removing a line. It is stressed that no complaint is directed towards this nurse. It is accepted that a baby of such an age will have very sensitive, soft skin.

“The complaint for investigation is that of the failings on the part of the management within the unit despite so many notifications and warnings of the dangers.”

CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (2007) came into force in on April 6 2008.

The Act set out a new offence for convicting an organisation where a gross failure in the way activities were managed or organised resulted in a person’s death. It applies to a wide range of organisations across the public and private sectors. The penalty is an unlimited fine; a prison term is not an option under the legislation.

The first successful conviction in Northern Ireland under Act came last month. It resulted in a record fine of £187,500 after Armagh based JMW Farms pleaded guilty to the offence of corporate manslaughter in relation to the death of an employee.

The legislation states:

“Juries will consider how the fatal activity was managed or organised throughout the organisation, including any systems and processes for managing safety and how these were operated in practice.”

A substantial part of the failure within the organisation must have been at a senior level.

Mr Waterworth says the fact that “baby 3” was the last baby to die is hugely significant and in his correspondence with the PSNI has enclosed a ‘timeline’ listing events of note that illustrate the extent to which there was an awareness around the dangers associated with pseudomonas.

The PSNI in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive will lead any investigation if a criminal offence is suspected.