New inquests opened into deaths of four patients at scandal-hit Gosport hospital

·3-min read

A coroner has opened the inquests of four patients who died at scandal-hit Gosport War Memorial Hospital which is being investigated over the care of hundreds of people.

An independent police investigation was launched into the Hampshire hospital after an inquiry found that hundreds of patients had their lives shortened through the use of opioids.

The Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, which is managing the investigation codenamed Operation Magenta, confirmed earlier this year that officers were reviewing millions of pages of documents including 15,000 death certificates and 700 patient records.

Gosport War Memorial Hospital Inquests
Dulcie Middleton’s death was one of the four new inquests opened (Family handout/PA)

Hampshire coroner Christopher Wilkinson formally opened inquests into the deaths of Dulcie Middleton, Horace Smith, Eva Page and Clifford Houghton which date back to the late 1990s following requests from their families.

Adjourning the four inquests, Mr Wilkinson told the hearing at Portsmouth: “I am obviously at this moment in time acknowledging that applications have been made to this court for the consideration of potential inquests but, as is normal process in this type of proceedings, I have to await the outcome of any criminal investigation before I can commence any independent judicial investigation.”

Emma Jones, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, has written to the Attorney General to ask for fresh inquests into the deaths of Arthur Cunningham who died aged 79 in August 1998 and Gladys Richards who died the same month.

She has also requested a new inquest into the death of Robert Wilson, a former Petty Officer in the Royal Navy who died in 1998 aged 74 after he was sent to Gosport for recuperation following a broken arm.

The six families are hoping that others will join them in their call for a Hillsborough-style inquest which would examine all of the deaths together and be held before a judge and jury rather than a coroner.

They want an inquest which considers Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life, which would have a much wider scope than a standard inquest to look at the role of all individuals and institutions involved in the deaths of patients at the hospital.

Ms Jones said: “We hope this will be the start of a complete, honest, open and thorough investigation into what happened to individuals at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.”

The new inquests will look at the death of 71-year-old Clifford Houghton after he was admitted to the hospital in February 1994 for a period of respite.

He died on the same day he was given two doses of diamorphine because of “deterioration” and the 2018 review panel concluded that Mr Houghton was given opioids without appropriate clinical indication.

His stepdaughter Pamela Byrne believes there is reason to suspect her stepfather died a “violent or unnatural death”.

Dulcie Middleton died aged 86 in September 2001, three months after she was admitted to Gosport hospital for rehabilitation following a stroke.

Her nephew and daughter, David Wilson and Marjorie Bulbeck, say Mrs Middleton’s treatment at the hospital was “neglectful and inhumane, she was not assisted with food and became dehydrated and was denied basic nursing care”.

Eva Page, 88, died in March 1998 and the Gosport Independent Panel (GIP) report concluded her death was a case of opioid usage without appropriate clinical indication.

Horace Smith, 73, died in April 1999 after his condition was said to be improving although he was subsequently prescribed diamorphine.

More than 450 people had their lives shortened at the hospital while another 200 were “probably” similarly given opioids between 1989 and 2000 without medical justification, according to the GIP report released in 2018.

The report said there was “a disregard for human life and a culture of shortening lives of a large number of patients” at the hospital.

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