'Miracle boy' born prematurely at 26 weeks dies suddenly a decade later sparking Portsmouth police investigation, inquest hears

A ‘MIRACLE BOY’ who survived being prematurely born at 26 weeks with his twin died suddenly a decade later – which prompted a police investigation, an inquest heard.

By Steve Deeks
Friday, 21st May 2021, 4:55 am

Denim Gillespie, 10, along with his brother Reece were left with ‘complex needs’ from their difficult births which they were not expected to survive in May 2008.

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After being born with bleeding and fluid on the brain both the boys were diagnosed with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, resulting in enlarged heads.

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The Coroner's Court - in Guildhall Square, Portsmouth, Hampshire

As a result both needed medication to treat epilepsy with Portsmouth Coroner’s Court hearing how Denim suffered a number of seizures resulting in increasing doses of prescription drugs.

On August 8, 2018, Denim had another seizure before he was given medication which settled him down. That night his mum, Lisa Gillespie slept with him in the living room of their adapted Copnor Green house.

Despite hearing ‘grunting’ noises in the early hours of August 9 Lisa said there was not ‘anything unusual’ about Denim’s state of health.

But at 4.15am Lisa woke up before realising something was wrong. ‘I came back into the living room and felt his head was cold. I started to panic and thought he had died and called 999,’ she said in her statement, read out to the inquest.

Paramedics arrived before Denim was rushed to Queen Alexandra Hospital where doctors were unable to save him. It is thought he had already died at home.

The inquest heard how before Denim’s death there were ‘significant concerns’ over whether he was receiving the right dose of medication from his parents and whether prescriptions were being picked up. Appointments with specialist epilepsy doctors were not always attended, the hearing was told.

Concerns over the incorrect dosage were flagged up by a school nurse at the Mary Rose Academy who said Denim’s mum ‘appeared unaware’ of what doses to administer before a social worker was informed as safeguarding issues were raised by authorities.

A police investigation followed into neglect by Lisa and her husband Paul against both boys and for causing or allowing the death of a child. The more serious charge was dropped after there was ‘no clear link from a criminal perspective’ to secure a conviction, according to police.

But the investigation into neglect continued with police focusing on maltreatment of the twins, missed appointments and the suspicion that medicine was not being administered correctly.

‘The interviews reinforced that Lisa was taking responsibility for the appointments and medicines. Lisa had become confused about what medications to give to both children and was even confused in the interview,’ Detective chief inspector Liam Davies said.

The detective went on to say there was also evidence of ‘poor communication between (medical) professionals’.

Police dropped their investigation into neglect.

During the hearing, Dr Joanne Crane, a community paediatrician for Solent NHS Trust who was assigned to monitor Denim admitted a breakdown in communication with Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

She said there was ‘no communication to me’ over some seizures suffered by Denim and had not been informed about increasing dosages of medications he had been given.

The doctor also said there was no system in place where professionals could see whether prescriptions had been collected from pharmacies. Following Denim’s death she said there was now a ‘direct pathway of communication’ between the health organisations.

The inquest heard from pathologist Dr Russell Delaney, who revealed Denim had bronchi pneumonia when he died which was ‘sufficient to cause sudden death’. He said the boy’s epilepsy and other health conditions could have contributed to his death.

Coroner Christopher Wilkinson recorded a verdict of death by natural causes with Denim’s chest infection, epilepsy and underlying health conditions ‘all conspiring to lead to his death while sleeping’.

The coroner opted not to include neglect as playing a role in Denim’s death with him saying there was ‘insufficient evidence’.

He said: ‘It is very clear that during the past two years before his death there were issues with communication between the professionals and with the family.’

Mr Wilkinson said the ‘engagement of the family was not as good as it could be at times’ but with the ‘complex problems’ of dealing with twins with the same problems ‘greater support should have been offered to you to help with that’.

The coroner acknowledged there was ‘significant confusion’ over the medication regime but said the lack of medication found in Denim’s system had ‘no direct effect’ on his death.

Lisa described Denim as her ‘special boy’ who along with Reece were ‘miracle boys’ after surviving their traumatic birth. ‘He was very loving and would act like Reece’s older brother,’ she said.

On the night of his death, Lisa recalled how Denim told her he ‘loved her’.

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