Chapter 10: The local MP
Subsequent involvement: 2007 to 2010
In the second Written Parliamentary Question to the Home Secretary on 5 February 2007, Mr Viggers asked how many police man-hours were involved in the most recent Hampshire Constabulary investigation into alleged unlawful killings at the hospital, and at what cost.2
The next documents available to the Panel concern Mr Viggers’ correspondence with Charles Stewart-Farthing, the stepson of Arthur Cunningham. Mr Viggers wrote to Mr Stewart-Farthing on 13 June 2007 reporting that he had pursued the issue raised with him relating to his stepfather’s death and enclosing a letter from the Chief Constable dated 29 May. Mr Viggers noted that Mr Stewart-Farthing had met with the Senior Investigating Officer (FAM001910, p1). On 27 June, Mr Viggers wrote again, acknowledging that Mr Stewart-Farthing had provided him with a copy of a letter to the Chief Constable (FAM001909).
Mr Viggers was knighted for his services to Parliament in 2008. In March 2009, he commented publicly on the eve of the inquests into the deaths of ten patients. On 17 March, BBC News reported Sir Peter as saying: “There have been so many inquiries, there was a police inquiry that came to a conclusion that no further action was required. I like and know the hospital and the people there and would like the issue to be allowed to rest” (MRE001217, p2).
Two days later, the Portsmouth News published an editorial which included this statement of why it disagreed with Sir Peter’s view:
“We certainly believe a formal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones can help them to feel some comfort and reassurance that every detail has been examined. So we do not agree with Gosport MP Sir Peter Viggers, who has criticised the decision to hold a coroner’s inquiry. His argument is that the police have already looked into the deaths and decided that no action was required. In his mind, it’s better to let the matter rest. He is factually right in that the deaths have been the subject of three inquiries by Hampshire Police and a probe by the Crown Prosecution Service. But, with respect to Mr Viggers, he is not one of those who has lost a much-loved relative. He can’t know how much it means to them. Also, some would say that previous investigations have not exactly been conclusive and that an exhaustive inquiry should have been held before now. We believe re-opening the inquests is the right way to proceed. It may take time, but we hope they give relatives the information they feel they are still missing after all these years.” (FAM000614, p1)
Families affected also made it clear that they rejected Sir Peter’s position. Gail Bragginton wrote to him expressing her disgust:
“Our mother was one of those singled out to be prematurely terminated and this was three years before the whole situation became public. No matter that eight previous inquiries were inconclusive, we who were involved knew what was going on: in the last week of my mother’s life my sister said to one of the doctors, ‘So, you are going to pump our mother full of morphine until her body cannot take any more’. His reply was, ‘That’s your opinion’. Any regime that allows pre-signed prescriptions for diamorphine which is then administered by nurses when they see fit is inherently unsafe, at the very least. It is already clear that in some cases this drug was administered to patients who had no clinical reason to receive it intravenously via a driver 24/7.” (FAM002715, p1)
Mrs Bragginton challenged Sir Peter:
“If your mother had been terminated in the same way as ours, you, too, would want to know who was responsible even if their actions fall short of murder or manslaughter. In the meantime, your remarks are extremely hurtful and offensive to those of us who have lost our relatives and want to know the truth about their deaths. Why do you think that after 13 years families are continuing this fight? Clearly there is some case to answer.” (FAM002715, p1)
Sir Peter sent the following short letter in reply: “Thank you for your letter of 23 March. I note the points you make and I am sorry that my remarks distressed you” (FAM002716, p1).
In the third of his Written Parliamentary Questions about the hospital, Sir Peter asked the Secretary of State for Health to publish the report prepared by Professor Richard Baker.3
The Panel is aware that Sir Peter was interviewed by the BBC about his position on inquiries into what happened at the hospital. The interview was not broadcast.
On 23 April 2009, the Portsmouth News reported the outcome of the inquests and the families’ reaction in a number of articles. One of them, headed “Relatives call for a public apology from MP in wake of hearings”, quoted Mr Stewart-Farthing: “He has got several apologies to make. His behaviour has been unforgivable from the beginning.” The article also quoted Mrs Mackenzie: “I want him to apologise to me in the House of Commons” (FAM002247, p1).
In the same article, Sir Peter is said to have refused to talk to the newspaper but to have given the following statement: “I have always supported the work of the [Gosport] War Memorial Hospital which has an important place in the local community. Similarly, I have supported the work of the medical, nursing and auxiliary staff. I do not propose to make any comment on the inquest until I have had the opportunity to read the report in full” (FAM002247, p1).
At the General Election in May 2010, Caroline Dinenage was elected as MP for Gosport. On 7 September 2010, the front page of the Portsmouth News reported that the “MP backs calls for hospital deaths inquiry”. Caroline Dinenage was said to want an official probe to find out what happened at the hospital. Iain Wilson, a bereaved family member, was reported as saying: “We used to have an MP who said he wouldn’t help and now we’ve got an MP saying she will help in any way she can. I think having the constituency MP on board could really change things. It’s given me new hope” (FAM002294, p2).
Written Parliamentary Question, 5 February 2007. Daily Hansard, col 156W. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070205/text/70205w0017.htm#07020558001032 (accessed 17 April 2018).
Written Parliamentary Question, 23 March 2009. Daily Hansard, col 156W.
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090323/text/90323w0034.htm#0903241000701 (accessed 17 April 2018).