Gosport War Memorial Hospital: Plain-clothes detectives carry out new search at site

DETECTIVES have examined a scandal-hit hospital where 456 patients died after being given 'dangerous levels' of painkillers.
Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Bury Rd, Gosport. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (230219-5)Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Bury Rd, Gosport. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (230219-5)
Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Bury Rd, Gosport. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (230219-5)

Officers descended on Gosport War Memorial Hospital early on Sunday morning in search of new evidence as part of a criminal investigation into how hundreds lost their lives.

The plain-clothes officers were spotted sifting through documents as part of the police probe into alarming numbers of patient deaths between 1987 and 2001.

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Kent Police confirmed Sunday's pre-dawn operation was connected to its ongoing investigation into the deaths, which it opened in April last year.

The force refused to reveal whether it had uncovered vital information needed to finally bring a prosecution.

The weekend's developments come almost two years after a report found 456 patients died and up to 200 had their lives shortened under the watch of GP Dr Jane Barton, due to bad practice.

The Gosport Independent Panel determined in June 2018 that Dr Barton, dubbed 'Dr Opiate', inappropriately gave patients powerful painkillers.

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The GP – who was clinical assistant at the hospital's Department of Medicine for Elderly People and signed off the medical prescriptions – has never been prosecuted for the deaths.

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Dr Barton, 71, retired in 2010, years after the alleged bad practice.The panel concluded in its report opiates were prescribed by medical staff without the 'appropriate justification'.Kent and Essex Police is leading a fourth investigation called Operation Magenta into the deaths.

It involves re-interviewing hundreds of family members. In October 2018, the force's then assistant chief constable, Nick Downing, told families a review of the inquiry's findings might not end in a criminal case, despite almost two decades of campaigning by grieving relatives.Downing stepped down from the investigation last year after retiring due to 'personal reasons'.Kent Police spokesman, James Walker, said: ‘On Sunday, January 26 police officers from the Operation Magenta investigation team carried out a search at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, Hampshire.‘The search is related to the ongoing criminal investigation into deaths at the hospital between 1987 and 2001.

‘The search was carried out with the co-operation and prior knowledge of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, as is appropriate in an investigation of this nature.’The force refused to disclose how many officers were involved in the hospital raid, what police were scouring the hospital for and if any evidence was discovered.It was also unable to provide an update on how the police operation is progressing.Frustrated relatives of the hundreds of patients who died have demanded action is taken against anyone responsible for the shortening of their loved ones' lives.

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The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Portsmouth coroner David Horsley had been 'misled' by Whitehall after flagging up concerns about practices at the hospital.

He allegedly said a request in August, 2007 for him to investigate 92 patient deaths was ‘impossible’, instead arguing only a ‘full public inquiry' would ‘allay public concerns' about prescription practices.

Mr Horsley was later told by civil servants an inquiry would be ‘inappropriate’ as internal reviews into the scandal showed ‘no major system flaws’.

A trio of reviews found a host of shocking practices, before the Gosport Independent Panel came 11 years later.

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Bridget Reeves, whose grandmother Elsie Devine, 88, died at Gosport in 1999 after being admitted for respite care, told the Sunday Times: ‘In seeking justice for these hundreds of deaths, we have fought against this machine for 20 years, knowing full well that it has been nothing more than a government cover-up to protect themselves against liability.’

She was among family members of the patients who handed a petition signed by more than 100,000 people calling for criminal prosecutions to former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018.