HAMPSHIRE police’s chief constable has said sorry over her force’s three investigations into Gosport’s hospital deaths and said it will hand over in the ‘coming days’.
But Olivia Pinkney stopped short of confirming a new investigation would be started by another force.
Any decision to start a fourth police probe would be with the force that takes over.
But Hampshire’s crime commissioner Michael Lane said any fresh allegations received in the wake of the Gosport Independent Panel could spark an investigation.
As reported, the panel found 456 patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital had their lives shortened through the institutional practice of prescribing opioids without medical justification.
Another 200 ‘probably’ died in the same way but missing medical reports meant the panel could not be as certain.
Its report named Dr Jane Barton, 69, as ‘responsible for the practice of prescribing’ on the wards.
Mrs Pinkney’s apology yesterday said sorry for the ‘distress’ caused since the first police investigation in 1991.
Officers took 11 days to dismiss Gillian Mackenzie, now 84, and her sister Lesley Lack as ‘troublemakers’.
Gillian raised concerns over her mother 91-year-old Gladys Richards’ death at the hospital in 1998.
Yesterday Mrs Pinkney said: ‘The force has always acknowledged that the first two police investigations were not of a high quality.
‘The report makes clear a view from the panel that the third did not look widely enough.
‘We accept the panel’s findings and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for our part in the distress caused to families for so many years.’
Reacting to the chief constable’s statement, Bridget Reeves – whose 88-year-old grandmother Elsie Devine died at the hospital in 1999 – said: ‘The police want to step back but do not want to stand up and admit what they have done.
‘They do not want to apologise to the families for the abhorrent way they carried out their investigations.
‘When we first reported my grandmother’s death to them, they came to the house and told us there will be a criminal case and they would take this to the Old Bailey.
‘They led us to believe this would be a criminal investigation when they knew they did not have enough evidence.
‘What they need to do is stand up and say they got it wrong.
‘We need another police force, one with more integrity than the people who ran Hampshire police in those days.’
Mrs Pinkney said the force would take a ‘step back’ but the transfer would be ‘taken forward as quickly as possible’.
It would be for the Crown Prosecution Service to outline whether any action is possible, she said.
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said it was a ‘wise decision’ for the county’s force to step back.
She said: ‘With so many failed investigations into this tragic matter in the past, it’s vital that this important work is now passed to a force that can look afresh and rebuild the families’ trust in our police.’
The report criticised all three police investigations into the deaths at the hospital between 1989 and 2000.
Commissioner Mr Lane said he asked Mrs Pinkney to keep him informed ‘every week about the progress made... to make sure where we do it deliberately, professionally and appropriately but (also) keep a sense of pace’.
Mr Lane added there was ‘the possibility of more people’ coming forward with allegations and ‘that may well create in the normal course of things an investigation requirement’.
He said: ‘I will scrutinise the force’s actions in response to the report at every step on behalf of those families affected and the wider communities.’
Mr Lane, who said families ‘endured the pain and distress of unanswered questions’ for ‘far too long’, added: ‘Hampshire Constabulary is not the same as it was 20 years ago.’
During the three police probes, six police conduct investigations were held, with one review by the watchdog, the IPCC. The IPCC also ran one investigation.
Poor communication with the families, branded as ‘inadequate’, rocked the police probes.
In the first probe there had been no attempt to seek advice from the Crown Prosecution service, and a superintendent said ‘further investigation would not be appropriate’.
The panel found that the three probes uncovered evidence that ‘offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and/or corporate manslaughter, might have been committed’.
In the 1998 investigation, Detective Constable Richard Maddison wrote: ‘I have no idea why these two sisters are so out to stir up trouble.’
Yesterday Mrs Pinkney said she has ‘already instructed my force to prepare plans so that this can be handed over to a different lead force’.
Mrs Pinkney added: ‘This will be taken forward as quickly as possible.
‘Following this I will communicate my decision with the families first.
‘I very much hope that this transparent approach will be echoed across all agencies and the momentum that the panel’s report has brought can continue.’