Northern Ireland news

Doctors linked to child's death not called to give evidence at new inquest

Alan and Jennifer Roberts, parents of Claire Roberts (9) who died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

DOCTORS linked to a "cover up" of failings that led to the hospital death of a nine-year-old girl will not be called as witnesses at a fresh inquest - an omission described as "shocking" by her parents.

At a preliminary hearing at Belfast Coroner's court yesterday, a solicitor for east Belfast couple Alan and Jennifer Roberts expressed concern that people were "missing" from a witness list and asked for a new one to be drawn up within 28 days.

The couple's only daughter, Claire, died 22 years ago at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children from a condition known as hyponatramia, which is linked to a shortage of sodium in the blood.

Her case was at the centre of Northern Ireland's longest running public inquiry, which found that four children's deaths at the Royal were "avoidable".

The inquiry also concluded there was a "cover up" by some consultants in relation to the care of Claire Roberts - and that those involved were more intent on protecting their own reputations to "avoid scrutiny".

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

A new police investigation is underway into the case which will run in parallel with the inquest.

During yesterday's hearing, coroner Joe McCrisken noted that the new witness list was a "draft" document and agreed to set a date to extend it.

A solicitor for the Roberts family told the court they wanted a "robust and complete inquest into the cause of their daughter's death".

It also emerged that the new inquest may not begin until next year.

Speaking outside the court, Mr Roberts said he was "disappointed and surprised" that doctors who were originally called to the 2006 inquest were not to be questioned for a second time, despite being heavily criticised in the inquiry report led by high court judge, Sir John O'Hara,

"We understand the coroner wants to make the new inquest the least stressful as possible, but for us as parents we want the doctors from the Belfast trust involved in our daughter's care to be questioned on oath again," he said.

"We have two death certificates that are totally inaccurate. This will be the third opportunity for doctors to tell us the truth about our daughter's death. We are shocked this provisional list doesn't include any of these doctors."

Referring to the delay in getting the inquest started, Mr Roberts added: "We do appreciate the legal process takes time but it is eight months since Mr Justice O'Hara published his inquiry findings. We are now faced with the prospect it could be mid-2019 before a hearing begins. This drags out and prolongs our grief and trauma."

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