Gosport scandal families raise cash for prosecutions after losing faith in police

Patrick Sawer
Bridget Reeves (centre), the granddaugher of Elsie Devine who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, and the families of other victims speak to the media outside Portsmouth Cathedral following the publication of the Gosport Independent Panel's report. - PA

The families of hundreds of patients whose lives were cut short by painkillers prescribed without medical justification are raising money for possible private prosecutions after losing faith in the police.

Relatives of those who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital say they need to prepare a case against those responsible for one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NHS.

Hampshire Police announced on Thursday it is to hand over its investigations to another constabulary, after a damning report found it failed to properly examine multiple reports by families and whistleblowers that doctors were giving patients dangerously high levels of opioid drugs.

The force was severely criticised by the Gosport Independent Panel, which found that more than 650 people died as a result of the prescribing regime at the hospital. Three investigations by Hampshire police between 1998 and 2010 failed to lead to any prosecutions.

Now an online funding appeal has been launched to allow families of the victims to hire a barrister to examine the best way of pursuing justice for those who died.

The families are preparing for the possibility of private prosecutions of individuals, should any new investigation fail to lead to charges, as well as civil action against the NHS trusts in charge of Gosport hospital.

Bridget Reeves, 42, whose grandmother Elsie Devine died aged 88 following treatment at Gosport hospital in 1999, told The Daily Telegraph: “The police and the NHS failed in their duties and we need a barrister to look at the options that are available to us and to look at which cases are strong enough for action to be brought against those responsible.”

Elsie Devine, who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital Credit: Reeves family/PA

Mrs Reeves, whose GoFundMe page has already raised hundreds of pounds towards its target of £500,000, accused Hampshire police of being responsible for a fundamental miscarriage of justice.

“The police are culpable in this in the way they didn't secure a prosecution. They sat on things and they didn’t make things public at a time when it might have stopped some people going into that hospital,” she said.

Her mother Ann, 72, added: "I don't trust the government. Why aren't there arrests already?

I can guarantee the government has its best lawyers looking into this report already - but we have no one by our side to help us as we pick it apart page by page and word by word. We need a barrister so we can get this into court and expose what happened to the world.

“Hampshire Constabulary are stepping down, quite rightly so. We've still got the same CPS though, some of the people I have challenged and argued with for years.”

Ann Reeves, the daugher of Elsie Devine, who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The inquiry, led by the former bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, found that nursing staff first raised concerns nearly 30 years ago but their fears were "silenced" by management.

In the report, clinical assistant Dr Jane Barton was held responsible for the policies which led to the deaths of 656 patients. She was found guilty of "multiple instances of serious professional misconduct" by the General Medical Council in 2010 but was never prosecuted.

Following the report’s publication Hampshire’s chief constable, Olivia Pinkney, admitted her force’s investigations into the deaths were not fit for purpose and that public confidence in the police had been damaged:

She said on Thursday: “We cannot hide from the fact that the legacy of what has happened has caused considerable damage to confidence in the agencies involved, including my own.

“We accept the Panel’s findings and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for our part in the distress caused to families for so many years.”