Northern Ireland news

Hyponatraemia girl's parents accuse Belfast Trust of "refusing every opportunity to be honest"

Claire Roberts (nine) died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast
By Rebecca Black, Press Association

The parents of a child who died an "avoidable death" 22 years ago have accused the Belfast Trust of "refusing every opportunity to be honest", an inquest has heard.

Alan and Jennifer Roberts were speaking on the fourth day of a fresh inquest into the death of their only daughter.

Claire Roberts (nine), from east Belfast, died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children from a condition known as hyponatraemia, which is linked to a shortage of sodium in the blood.

She had been admitted 48 hours earlier after several episodes of vomiting, the inquest heard.

Medication she was administered in the hospital has been questioned by expert witnesses to the inquest.

Claire was one of five children whose deaths were investigated in a long-running public inquiry.

Four of the deaths were found to be "avoidable" and the inquiry chairman Sir John O'Hara QC 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".

Sir John ordered a new inquest be held into her death.

On the final day of the second inquest into Claire's death at Belfast Coroner's Court on Thursday, Coroner Joe McCrisken invited her parents to take to the stand to give evidence.

Mrs Roberts was tearful as she told the inquest: "Belfast Trust have shown no empathy towards us in 22 years. The doctors have destroyed us but they will not rob me of the precious memories we have of Claire.

"No parent should have to wait 22 years to learn how their daughter has died.

"Love never dies."

Mr Roberts said: "I think there have been numerous opportunities over the years for the Belfast Trust to be open, honest and transparent with us as parents and they have refused all those opportunities.

"When we came along here this week, we weren't quite sure what to expect, we thought this is again another opportunity to be honest.

"I think there's more people still trying to muddy the waters rather than be open and honest and I think that that culture is a thing that will be very very difficult to break down."

Mark Robinson, counsel for the Belfast Trust, told the inquest: "I know it is a very difficult time for the Roberts family giving evidence today, from the trust's perspective for these proceedings, the trust has done everything they can to co-operate with proceedings and assist."

Earlier on Thursday the inquest heard from a number of expert medical witnesses.

Dr Ian Maconochie, a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington in London, said the deaths have had an impact on the practice of administering intravenous fluids to children.

"The cases you have had in Northern Ireland have had a significant impact on practice. I think that is important to say," he told the inquest.

The inquest findings are expected to be delivered on Friday morning.

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