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New inquest ordered into hospital death of nine-year-old girl at centre of hyponatraemia inquiry

Alan and Jennifer Roberts, parents of Claire Roberts (9) who died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast. A new inquest has been ordered into Claire's death. Picture Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

A NEW inquest has been ordered into the death of a nine year-old Belfast girl after a landmark public inquiry found a litany of hospital failings in her care that were "covered up" by consultants.

Claire Roberts was one of four children whose hyponatraemia-related deaths were found to be "avoidable" following a 14-year inquiry by Sir John O'Hara.

Her father, Alan Roberts, today confirmed that he had met Attorney General John Larkin and a new inquest will take place.

Claire died in October 1996 at the Royal Belfast hospital for Sick Children. The original inquest - which took place 10 years after her death at her parents' request - incorrectly found she had died from a brain virus.

Mr Roberts said: "Mr Justice O'Hara concluded in his report that the first inquest finding in 2006 is wrong. The Attorney General... has emphasised the importance of correcting the formal state record of Claire's death.

"The Attorney General has now directed the presiding coroner, Mrs Justice Keegan, to hold a second and fresh inquest into Claire's death."

Hyponatraemia occurs when there is a shortage of sodium in the bloodstream. The inquiry described it as a "preventable hospital illness".

The devastating report found there was a "self-regulating" culture where doctors and administrators put their reputations first to "avoid scrutiny" and in which parents were "deliberately misled".

It focused on the deaths of five children over an eight-year period between 1995 and 2003: In addition to Claire, those of Adam Strain (aged four), Raychel Ferguson (aged nine) 17-month-old Lucy Crawford, Conor Mitchell, who was 15.

The investigation examined whether fatal errors were made in the administration of intravenous fluids.

Claire Roberts (9) died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast and is one of the five child deaths between 1995 and 2003 investigated by the Hyponatraemia Inquiry. Picture by Mal McCann.

Mr Roberts said that after 21 years, they wanted the "truth to prevail" and for medical staff and managers involved in their daughter's care to be made "accountable".

"The day following the inquest in 2006 the Royal Belfast Hospital stated that there was 'no criticism of the Trust's care of this patient'. It is a matter of great concern that between 2004 and 2006 a concerted effort was made by the Belfast Trust to have Claire's case excluded from the ongoing public inquiry," he added.

"The role of the coroner is to establish the correct cause of death, something we as parents have been denied for more than 21 years. It will be for other agencies, in turn, to explore the efforts of medical professionals to conceal the truth about Claire's death. We, as parents, are more determined than ever that the truth shall prevail, those responsible made accountable and that justice is served."

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