A hospital blunder has forced a former Eastbourne mother to hold a second funeral for her seven-week-old son – 15 years after he died.
Officers from Sussex Police contacted Jennifer Ashton, who was known as Jennifer Harrington when she lived in Eastbourne, earlier this year to break the news that the heart and rib-cage of baby Joseph were still being held by London’s St Thomas’ and Guy’s hospitals.
Joseph died as after a freak accident in 1998 when his step-dad tripped and fell on him.
Miss Ashton told a national newspaper this week officers told her that her son’s body parts were found in the back of a freezer.
“I’ve now just had to bury him all over again,” said Miss Ashton, who said the police visit was “completely out of the blue, a total shock”.
“I had a total mental breakdown, I was totally crushed,” she said. “Now I’m just going through the stages of grieving again.”
Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital has had to contact the families of 23 deceased patients whose body parts had been retained by its pathology department. Tissue samples and organs held on behalf of coroners and 12 police forces from around the country were kept at the forensic medicine department of nearby Kings College Hospital until the unit closed in 2000 and then transferred to Guy’s and St Thomas’.
The trust said in a statement, “Having carefully identified the samples and organs, last year Guy’s and St Thomas’ contacted the police forces involved. These police forces have then contacted families with our support when requested. We would like to apologise to the family for the distress this situation has caused.”
A spokesperson at Sussex Police confirmed Joseph’s was one of 23 cases being dealt with by the force.
“Jennifer Ashton, Joseph’s mother, was the first of our 23 visits on March 19 this year.
“She thanked us for the information and asked to us to assist in the return of the material to her which we of course willingly did.
“For compassionate reasons we also acted as liaison between Jennifer and the funeral directors and paid the funeral costs of some £250.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Fowler said, “At the forefront of this sensitive operation is the need to respect concerns and wishes of families, give a clear, compassionate and open account and offer advice and support about ethical disposal or the return of their loved one’s tissue.”