Mother fears inquiry collapse

Raychel Ferguson died at the age of 10 in June 2001

Raychel Ferguson died at the age of 10 in June 2001

THE mother of a child killed by fluid she was given after a routine operation has raised fears that the long-postponed inquiry into the death is on the verge of collapsing, before public hearings have even started.

Marie Ferguson, whose daughter, Raychel, died of dilutional hyponatraemia caused by intravenous fluid from a drip after an appendectomy in Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital in June 2001, has written to the chair of the Inquiry into Hyponatraemia-Related Deaths.

She expresses her anguish at the latest delay to the public hearings which were due to start earlier this month – seven years after the inquiry was established to learn lessons from the death of Raychel and three other children who died in similar circumstances here.

Mrs Ferguson said she was “shocked and distressed” that the inquiry had been postponed until early next year after an intervention from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust when it found documents relevant to the hearings.

In a letter to the inquiry chairman, John O’Hara QC, she said she believed there was an intention to collapse the inquiry and that there was a real intention to make her and her family walk away from it. She challenged him to produce any correspondence with the Health Minister Edwin Poots on the subject.

She asked: “Is there some big secret that we do not know about and should be made public and can you let me have a copy of the letter or any correspondence you have sent to the Health Minister with any reply? From memory I recall that the last time you were writing to the Health Minister it took ages for any response.

“Can you give me a categoric assurance that the Inquiry into Raychel’s death will definitely proceed? Is there anything else I need to know about and is anything being hid from me or my solicitor? Have you checked that all the witnesses in relation to Raychel’s death will be available at the time you now say Raychel’s case will be individually dealt with?”

She also revealed that to date none of the inquiry team has taken a statement from her or her husband, Ray, about the events surrounding Raychel’s death.

“What is happening about that? You have left me in a complete sense of powerlessness and distress," she wrote.

Mrs Ferguson also claimed that following a consultation with her legal team she feared the inquiry appeared to be focusing on the case of Adam Strain, to the detriment of the other children whose deaths are being examined. Adam died at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in 1995 during a liver transplant.

“My main fear is the fact that there is so much focus at the moment on the Adam Strain case that I fear for Raychel’s case.”

She called for a public hearing to take place before the end of the year to update all the partied involved in the inquiry and to provide assurances that the start date of the public hearings will not slip again.

“I think you should let everyone know what is happening in public as my view is and always has been that the only people or organisations who benefit from all that is going on will be the medical people involved in the death of Raychel and the Trusts. The longer this goes on the easier it gets for them and the worse it gets for us.”

The inquiry was first postponed in 2005 as a result of further police inquiries and the latest delay means the hearings will not start until at least February 2012.

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.

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