Southern Health: Witness intimidation warning issued over hospital death probe

THE head of a panel investigating an NHS trust over patient deaths has warned attempts to intimidate witnesses giving evidence would not be tolerated.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 7:00 am

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust is being investigated over a series of failures in its care of five patients from Hampshire who died between 2011 and 2015.

Among them include Robert Small, 29, of Fareham, who died in 2012 and 18-year-old Edward Hartley, of Wickham, who died in 2014.

Nigel Pascoe QC, chairman of the investigating panel, warned attempts to ‘dissuade’ witnesses from giving evidence could amount to an ‘attempt to pervert the course of justice’.

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Edward Hartley from Wickham

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The six-week inquiry follows a damning report by Mr Pascoe in which he highlighted ‘serious and deeply regrettable failures’ by scandal-hit psychiatric trust Southern Health.

‘Any attempts by any person, anywhere, to dissuade a witness from giving evidence, in criminal or civil proceedings, may amount to an attempt to pervert the course of justice,’ the BBC reported.

The chairman added the panel, which began hearing last week, would ‘not hesitate to act’ on attempts to intimidate witnesses.

His comments came weeks after bereaved families said they felt ‘gaslighted’ and ‘bullied’ by the NHS.

The families who have withdrawn from the process also include Dianne Small from Fareham, mother Robert Small, Richard West, father of David West, 28, from Southampton, who died in 2013, Angie Mote and Kim Vella, daughters of Marion Munns, 74, from Southampton, who died in 2015 and Maureen Rickman, sister of 52-year-old Jo Deering, from New Milton, who died in 2011.

A joint statement read: ‘Our efforts over the years have led us down many avenues and introduced us to a revolving door of NHS and government agency personnel. We have “engaged”; we have “participated” and we have “co-produced”.

‘Sadly, all efforts to have our voices heard, acknowledged and accepted have met with a belligerent dissonance by those in senior management positions, both within the trust and the wider national NHS management, in facing up to the truth and we have been openly misled, misrepresented, gaslighted and bullied.’

An NHS spokesperson said it was ‘disappointed that the families have decided to take this step, and that it remains ‘committed to ensuring any lessons are identified and learned.’

The inquiry is continuing.