Gosport War Memorial Hospital: Families ‘pleased’ as individuals involved in deaths to be questioned
A police investigation into 456 patients who had their lives shortened at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1987 and 2007 will now see hospital staff involved being questioned under caution.
It comes three years after the investigation, called Operation Magenta, began following the publication of an independent panel report into the deaths.
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Many of the affected families have been waiting for more than two decades for justice – and while they will have to wait a little longer for a conclusion to their cases, there is a sense of optimism that steps are being made in the right direction.
These families were told about Operation Magenta’s intentions at a meeting in Fareham Leisure Centre yesterday.
Anthony Queree’s mother Margaret was one of those who died at the hospital, passing away in October 1994.
He said: ‘It’s all progressed quite rapidly – our meeting with Operation Magenta went unexpectedly better than usual.
‘Today’s announcement means our cases can go to the next step.
‘I still wonder how families will be kept updated on their individual cases, as I come from a family of six who live across the UK and want to be updated, but it was good news nonetheless.’
David Wilson’s aunt, Dulcie Middleton, died at the age of 86 in 2001 after treatment at the hospital.
Mr Wilson said: ‘I am pleased that Operation Magenta has identified that there is sufficient reason to actually interview these suspects under caution.
‘To me and many others, it confirms the fact that these interviews should have taken place all the way back in the 1990s.
‘It’s a step forward but it’s not as groundbreaking as some people might make it out to be – in reality it’s a confirmation of common sense. The evidence for these interviews has always been there, but no action was taken at the time.’
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Jerome heads Operation Magenta.
With many of the bereaved family members now in their 80s and 90s, he acknowledged that time is of the essence – but maintained that the police will still be thorough in their investigation.
He said: ‘I regularly keep the families updated on the progress that the investigation is making.
‘Today has been an important update to give to the families – we have identified a number of individuals and notified them of our intention to question them under caution.
‘Families have been waiting many years, but this investigation is one of the most complex in the history of the UK. It’s a meticulous undertaking and that’s why it’s taking its time, but this is a significant development.
‘I have to ensure that this investigation is done thoroughly and that is what we are undertaking.’
According to the Operation Magenta team, there are more than 700 cases being examined, with thousands of documents to sift through as police endeavour to get to the bottom of what happened at the hospital.
The doctor at the centre of the scandal is Dr Jane Barton, who was a clinical assistant at the hospital during that period.
Dr Barton was investigated and a fitness to practise panel previously found her guilty of serious professional misconduct, imposing conditions on her registration in 2010/11.
She was later granted voluntary erasure from the register, and is not allowed to practise medicine.
At the moment, there is no indication of who might be questioned by police – though it is assumed many will be past and present staff members at the war memorial hospital.
‘I have always said to the families that I cannot say or do anything that will undermine the integrity of this investigation,’ said Mr Jerome.
‘Therefore the details of those interviews, when and where they will take place, are for discussions between us and the legal representatives of those individuals.
‘It would be inappropriate to go into any detail about that.’
Direct relatives of the dead have previously voiced concerns about whether they will see justice dealt in their lifetimes.
Gillian Mackenzie from Eastbourne has been campaigning for justice ever since her mother, Gladys Richards, died at the hospital in 1998.
She was unable to attend the meeting due to poor health, but previously told The News that she ‘can’t go on living forever’.
‘The police are doing the best they can, but this is all taking up time,’ she added.
Mr Jerome said: ‘It is very difficult to give a precise timescale purely because this investigation is so huge.
‘We are progressing at pace and pursuing all reasonable lines of inquiry in line with the law.
‘I’m acutely conscious of the families and I have to balance that against pursuing a fair and thorough investigation – that is what I am doing and the families would expect nothing less of me in that regard.
‘There are a number of different factors at play, and when this investigation concludes I will be in a position to update them on what we have discovered about their loved ones.’
Emma Jones, of Leigh Day solicitors which represents several of the families, said: ‘After decades of waiting by families whose loved ones died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, this development is a massive step.
‘We welcome the decision to formally question people about their alleged involvement in deaths at Gosport Hospital between 1987 and 2001.
‘We hope the process will not take too long because inquests were adjourned until after the conclusion of the police investigation and many of the families who have been waiting for these processes to conclude are themselves elderly.
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