Relatives deserve their day in court: the flagship BBC Panorama programme broadcast a shocking episode this week on what had been going on at the Gosport War Memorial NHS Hospital 20 years ago, showing how relatives are still awaiting justice, and that none of the senior individuals and managers at the time have ever been brought to book.
It made for sobering watching. I well remember 10 plus years ago when local Eastbourne resident, Mrs Gillian McKenzie, first came to see me with allegations about what she believed had happened to her mother, Gladys Richards, in 1998 when she was transferred to the War Memorial Hospital following a hip operation, and all under the supervision of Dr Jane Barton.
At first it sounded too far-fetched but after reading the files Gillian gave me, I was persuaded and have been campaigning on her behalf ever since.
We finally managed to secure a public enquiry, lead by the retired Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, and the reality of what had been going on finally came out.
It was re-visited in all its misery this week on Panorama. How more than 400 patients, and a possible further 200, had died after being given ‘dangerous levels’ of opiate drugs.
How there’d been a ‘disregard for human life and a culture of shortening the lives of a large number of patients.’
It was even more devastating when you saw that senior people, consultants who should have overseen Dr Barton and hospital managers, turned a blind eye; and how the Hampshire police fobbed Gillian off when she first tried to raise the alarm all those years ago.
The point was made on the programme, and powerfully so, that if they’d listened to her at the time more than 60 lives could have been saved. Think about that.
Her achingly powerful contribution to the documentary asking herself if she’d done enough and that if it was somehow her fault she’d failed to get the powers-that-be to grasp the enormity of what was going on was heartbreaking.
This remarkable lady, now in her 80s herself, who I have got to know well over the years, was almost in tears. I wanted to reach out through the TV set to give her a hug and reassure her that she had done everything possible. It’s just that sometimes those in authority, in their own arrogance and stupidity, simply cannot and more importantly do not want to hear the truth.
I’ve believed for a decade now there was a cover-up, so it was with grim pleasure I watched the journalist door-stepping a number of the key individuals. Not just Barton but those who were supposed to be overall in charge. The hospital manager at the time who’d allowed it to go on under his nose ignoring the growing disquiet from relatives. We learned from the TV programme he’d actually ended up as the CEO of the Trust! Has the man no shame, I wondered.
One of the other revelations of the programme came from a retired police officer who had lead the investigation in 2002. He’d concluded at the time their ‘was’ enough evidence to take Dr Barton and others to court to face criminal charges, but the Crown Prosecution Service had resisted.
He told Panorama he’d warned them at the time that they were wrong and this whole dreadful episode would one day result in a public enquiry, which it did.
And he believed then as now, the main characters running that awful hospital ward should face their accusers in the dock. I agree with him!
Eastbourne’s Gillian McKenzie who has fought tenaciously for justice for over 20 years on behalf of her mother, and the other relatives who lost their loved ones, deserves her day in court. She and they are entitled to justice and I will continue campaigning for this in parliament. Gillian, you warrant nothing less.
Supporting our wonderful Lifeboat Service: it was a pleasure to swing around to the Eastbourne RNLI Station and drop off a £200 cheque. Whenever I get paid for speeches or interviews I ensure the cheques are made out to local charities - and you can’t get much better than our own, much loved lifeboat service.
They reminded me that last year was their busiest ever with 174 call-outs for the inshore and out-shore boats. That’s one busy and much appreciated station. Thank you Mark (coxswain), Carl (ops manager), and all your dedicated crew and colleagues for your tremendous efforts. You are a credit to our town, and to the RNLI.
That’s it folks. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you around town.