Watchdog blasts ‘flawed’ Memorial deaths probe

Report shared from BBC website’s Local News page, Friday, October 15

HAMPSHIRE Constabulary has been ordered to review its “insufficient” response to complaints that it was corrupt in the way it investigated the deaths of patients at a scandal-hit hospital.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct said complaints from 12 relatives of patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital had been upheld and the police should open a new investigation.

They were given powerful painkillers inappropriately between 1987 and 2001, the Gosport Independent Panel found.

The result of the IOPC investigation emerged as four new inquests were opened into the deaths of patients at the hospital.

Clifford Houghton, 71, Dulcie Middleton, 86, Eva Page, 88, and Horace Smith, 73, were originally determined as having died from natural causes, Hampshire Senior Coroner Chris Wilkinson told the hearing in Portsmouth.

He adjourned the inquests to a date to be fixed.

The IOPC said Hampshire Constabulary initially told relatives, who accused the force of corruption, that there were no conduct or criminal matters that required investigation.

In a statement, it said: “Following the reviews we have upheld each case on the grounds that the outcomes provided by the force were not reasonable and proportionate.

“This was mainly due to insufficient rationale and relevant information being given to the complainants to understand how decisions had been reached.

“We have now told the force a complaint investigation is required and they should provide the complainants with enough information to explain what inquiries have been carried out and how they reached their conclusions.”

The Gosport Independent Panel report in 2018 found there was a “disregard for human life” of a large number of patients at the hospital from 1989 to 2000.

There was an “institutionalised regime” of prescribing and administering “dangerous” amounts of a medication not clinically justified.

And it said Dr Jane Barton, who was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in 2010, oversaw the practice of prescribing on the wards.

The new inquests are examining:

  • Clifford Houghton, 71, who died after he was admitted in February 1994 for a period of respite. The GIRP report concluded he was given opioids without appropriate clinical indication.
  • Dulcie Middleton, 86, who died in September 2001, three months after she was admitted for rehabilitation following a stroke. Her family has said her treatment was “neglectful and inhumane”.
  • Eva Page, 88, who died in March 1998. The GIRP report concluded her death was a case of opioid usage without appropriate clinical indication.
  • Horace Smith, 73, who died in April 1999 after his condition was said to be improving, although he was subsequently prescribed diamorphine.

Three previous investigations into 92 of the deaths by Hampshire Constabulary resulted in no charges being brought. A new police investigation, codenamed Operation Magenta, was opened by Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate in 2019.

In a statement, Hampshire Constabulary said: “[The IOPC] have asked us to explain our rationale more clearly and to share more information with the complainants. It is our intention to do that.”

Family photographs taken from BBC website. See also www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-58902756