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Hyponatraemia: Parents of Claire Roberts (9) have 'confidence' in new police probe

Alan and Jennifer Roberts, the parents of nine-year-old Claire who died in 1996, leave an inquest hearing in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

THE parents of a nine-year-old girl whose death was at the centre of a damning public inquiry say they have "confidence" in a new police probe into the case.

Claire Roberts died in 1996 in the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children from hyponatraemia, a condition linked to a shortage of sodium in the blood.

A long-running inquiry, which also investigated the hospital deaths of four other children, concluded there was a "cover up" in relation to the east Belfast schoolgirl - and that those involved were more intent on protecting their own reputations to "avoid scrutiny".

At a preliminary inquest in Belfast yesterday, Alan and Jennifer Roberts listened to a senior PSNI officer outline how he and team of detectives are now examining if "any criminal offences were committed".

A specialist 12-strong group of officers has been appointed to the case.

Detective Superintendent Richard Campbell told coroner Joe McCrisken that they are "at a very early stage" and are still going through the vast inquiry report, which was published on January 31.

Mr McCrisken said "some breathing time" was required for the police probe to get underway and that it would impact on the timing of the inquest, putting the next hearing back to September.

This is the second inquest into the death of Claire Roberts.

The original inquest - which took place 12 years ago at her parents' request - incorrectly found she had died from a brain virus.

The Attorney General John Larkin ordered the new hearing last month.

Speaking to The Irish News after yesterday's brief hearing, Claire's parents said the day was an emotional one but they were "hopeful" there would "eventually" be accountability.

"We had an informal meeting with the coroner last month and knew that it could take another 18 months before the inquest starts properly due to the new police investigation," Mr Roberts said.

"While police looked at Claire's case back in 2006 it was a different time and they had more limited material.

"For any family to go through a second inquest into their child's death after findings of a cover-up is a very difficult and unique experience. Fresh inquests into children's deaths don't happen very often."

In addition to Claire Roberts, the inquiry led by Mr Justice O'Hara focused on the deaths of four other children over an eight-year period between 1995 and 2003: Adam Strain (4), Raychel Ferguson (9), 17-month-old Lucy Crawford, and Conor Mitchell, who was 15.

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

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