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Gosport Independent Panel

Chapter 9: The local and national media

Further media coverage: 2002


On 25 January 2002, the Independent reported Mrs Mackenzie’s dissatisfaction with both Mr Viggers and Nigel Waterson, the MP for Eastbourne, in whose constituency she lived. This article is described in Chapter 10


On 22 April, the BBC reported the case of Alice Wilkie: 

“… the family of Mrs Wilkie say they are angry over the way they claim police handled the investigation. 

Speaking about her mother’s hospital treatment, Mrs Wilkie’s daughter Marilyn Jackson, said: ‘She might have had a few more months, she might have had a year, we don’t know that. 

‘I think she could have had a little bit more care and been better looked after if she’d been somewhere else.’

The family point out that Hampshire Police did not interview relatives and claim the investigation was incomplete. But following their investigations, detectives passed a file to the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI).” (HCO000843, p1)


The CHI report was published in July. An editorial in the Portsmouth News on 4 July read: 

War Memorial report is unsatisfactory because it does not bring closure

We are not looking for scapegoats. We do not say the report into deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital is a whitewash. But there is something uncomfortably cosy about it.

Mistakes have been admitted in the provision of drugs to frail old people, yet in no instance, we are told, can we be sure those mistakes were directly to blame for their demise. 

To relatives and other laymen, that will be difficult to believe. And it is with both those groups that we should be primarily concerned now.  

Present and future patients are assured that procedures have been changed since the deaths in 1998. But we have to take that on trust, and our trust - both in the system and in individual practitioners - has to be earned afresh.

As for the relatives, they are understandably upset at not having their questions answered in public. We accept there may be good legal reasons for the Fareham and Gosport Primary Care Trust’s refusal to engage in a direct public confrontation. There may be cases to come before the British Medical Association.

But we must not forget that the inquiry into the deaths and yesterday’s report would never have happened but for the persistence of Gillian Mackenzie, whose mother died at the hospital. We would be happier if the trust had faced allegations more willingly. 

And now Mrs Mackenzie says she is still in the dark. So she still cannot draw a line under her personal tragedy.

That is why we say the report is unsatisfactory. It does not achieve closure.” (FAM000050, p9)

On the same day, the Morning Star reported that “Probe slams hospital after deaths of elderly patients”


On 3 July, the Southern Daily Echo carried two related stories, one headed “Families Want An Answer” and the other “Tears As Hospital Fears Are UnansweredThe first article included an interview with Ann Reeves, daughter of patient Elsie Devine, who was quoted as saying: “We just want some answers. I will not stop fighting until I find out exactly what happened to my mother” (FAM004269, pp1–3).


On 8 July, the Portsmouth News reported that families were furious when they discovered that hospital staff were being offered counselling because of the findings of the CHI report, while no support had been offered to grieving relatives who had lost their loved ones. The article stated:

“Families of elderly patients who died at the War Memorial were angered when they read in the Commission for Health Improvement’s report that health trust managers had encouraged nurses and doctors to get counselling.” 


Some staff who had been stressed by the investigations into a series of deaths at the hospital even complained that they had not been given enough support. 

“But relatives were asking today; ‘Where was the support for us?’

Emily Yeats, 26, whose grandmother Alice Wilkie, 82, was one of those who died after going to the hospital for rehabilitation, said: ‘What have they offered us? They haven’t offered us anything. They’ve thought to offer the staff counselling but they’ve left us to it.’

Marjorie Bulbeck, 59, of Southbourne near Emsworth, whose mother Dulcie Middleton, 85, died in the hospital last September, agreed access to an ‘independent ear’ might have helped.  

‘We have had to push for responses from the health people and to hear they seem to have done more for the staff than us is disappointing.’” (FAM000050, p1)


The Portsmouth News described the week when the CHI report was published as one “the trust would want to forget”. Mr Piper had said that staff would have had access to counsellors in line with permanent arrangements for NHS staff across the area. However, he said that he did not feel it appropriate that the Trust should initiate counselling for those with complaints against the NHS, as some people might take this the wrong way. Mr Piper added: “If any family raised it with us, we would certainly do everything we could to ensure they had access to counselling” (FAM000050, p1).


On 11 July, the Health Service Journal talked of a “catalogue of mistakes which had put patients at risk” under the headline “Sedative errors missed by trustThe report said that: 

“… an unspecified ‘number’ of doctors and nurses working at the hospital have been referred to the relevant regulatory bodies - the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. But no action has been taken against senior managers responsible for the clinical governance systems in place between 1998-2001.” (OSM100688, pp2–3)


On 23 August, under the headline “Staff face deaths probe", the Portsmouth News reported that one doctor and five nurses faced disciplinary hearings in connection with patient deaths at the hospital. The article suggested that one doctor would face a hearing by the Preliminary Proceedings Committee of the General Medical Council (GMC) to decide whether there had been serious professional misconduct. The suggestion was that the five nurses would appear before the Nursing and Midwifery Council to see if they might face similar charges. The article also reported that relatives had been told “the matter has been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) again” (FAM000050, p3). 


On 12 September, the Portsmouth News carried a further story under the headline “Families blast police over deaths inquiry. The article stated: 

“Relatives fighting to find the truth about the deaths of their parents at a Gosport hospital say the police are still letting them down … when the cases were pursued by the police they rounded on officers saying they had not done their job properly.”

The article quoted Mrs Mackenzie: “If the entire report has been sent to the CPS hopefully they will go back to the police and say that more investigation is needed” (FAM000050, p10).


On 14 September, there was some local and national media coverage of the news that Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, had appointed Professor Richard Baker to conduct a clinical audit. There was a report in The Telegraph, while The Guardian stated:

“Prof Baker was the expert appointed by the Department of Health to investigate the practice of Dr Howard Shipman after his conviction as a serial killer. His finding that Shipman might have been responsible for 330 deaths persuaded ministers to expand a public inquiry into his crimes. Officials were last night unaware of the government launching any similar clinical audit before a prosecution and conviction. Officials stressed that inquiries of this kind are very unusual.” (DOH000169, p3)


The Guardian article continued: “Sir Liam’s decision to mount an inquiry was based on uneasiness that neither the police nor the inspection team ‘was in a position to establish whether trends and patterns of death were out of line with what would be expected’” (DOH000169, p3).


On the same day, the Portsmouth News published an editorial headed “Time to end the doubt over deaths", which welcomed Sir Liam’s intervention and stated: 

“Imagine you are one of the relatives who have complained long and loud about how elderly patients have been treated at Gosport war memorial Hospital.

You’ve already suffered the grief of losing a loved one and believe there are disturbing questions surrounding the nature of their death.

Angry and upset you make a complaint and expect some answers.

But time moves on and two inquiries prove inconclusive.

A police report can’t establish whether any crimes have been committed. One by independent watchdog, the Commission for Health Improvement, criticises over-use of potentially lethal drugs.

But still there is nothing to link procedural problems with any deaths.

All the while the allegations have dragged on – since 1998 – a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the hospital.

Families’ suspicions have deepened and everybody who might use a hospital that serves 100,000 people has been left wondering what’s really been going on behind its doors.

Staff insist that nothing untoward has ever happened while relatives are adamant that is not the case. But what are people to believe?” (OSM100946, p1)


The Portsmouth News suggested that: 

“If there has been no wrongdoing, the professor [Baker] conducting the investigation must say so and allow confidence in the hospital to return.

If there is any evidence of staff being in any way responsible for elderly patients’ deaths, then that too must be made public and acted upon.

After so long waiting and wondering, only definitive answers will do.” (OSM100946, p1)


On 15 September, Lois Rogers, The Sunday Times’ medical correspondent, reported that 13 deaths were being investigated. She linked the issue to the prosecution of Dr Shipman. The article said that the problem was related to the use of diamorphine and named Dr Jane Barton as the doctor under investigation:

“Jane Barton, a GP who was in day-to-day charge of medical care at the hospital until July 2000, was referred to the General Medical Council’s professional conduct committee last week. A consultant geriatrician and seven nurses are also the subject of complaints about the dead patients’ treatment. However, there is no suggestion that Barton, who has refused to comment, or any of the others who worked on the wards deliberately caused harm to any patient.” (DOH000169, p2)


Lois Rogers’ article explained the background in these terms: 

“Prescriptions for morphine and other potent drugs were regularly written in advance, so that nurses could administer them unsupervised. Ian Piper, the chief executive of the Gosport and Fareham Primary Care Trust, which now administers the hospital, said he could not comment on individual cases. The trust has just sent its first draft of proposals to meet the 22 recommendations for change in the CHI report. Standards of care at the hospital had improved, said Piper. 

Families of 10 of the dead patients attended a meeting called by Ian Readhead, Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire, last week. Police said a file on the affair will be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service this month. The Nursing and Midwifery Council said it was investigating disciplinary proceedings against several nurses.

Donaldson has commissioned Richard Baker, professor of clinical governance at Leicester University, to repeat the statistical analysis he conducted into Shipman’s practice. Donaldson said previous inquiries into patient concerns at Gosport had not established whether patterns of death were ‘out of line with what would be expected’.

Baker will seek to answer the question fully.” (DOH000169, p2)


The article published in The Sunday Times did not include material from a conversation that the reporter had with Tim Barton, Dr Barton’s husband. The Panel has seen the record of that conversation (HCO116285).


As with the earlier reports in the Portsmouth News, the article in The Sunday Times had an impact. The following day, as Chapter 4 shows, Staff Nurse Anita Tubbritt and Nurse Beverley Turnbull handed over to an NHS manager a folder of documents dating from 1991/92 (‘the nurses’ dossier’), covering the nurses’ concerns described in Chapter 1 of this Report.


On 15 September, the News of the World reported the story (DOH000169, p2). Sky News also covered it, making a link to Dr Shipman. There were articles in The Times the following day (OSM100970) and in the Daily Mirror (OSM100756) two days later, together with reports in local newspapers in Newcastle and Liverpool. The Portsmouth News published an article on 18 September saying that Dr Barton was under investigation (OSM100934). On 19 September, the Health Service Journal also linked Professor Baker’s appointment to the Dr Shipman investigation (OSM100688).


On 20 September, the Portsmouth News reported that Mr Piper and Tony Horne, Chief Executive of East Hampshire Primary Care Trust, had been temporarily redeployed. Describing the move as a “startling development, the newspaper linked it to the discovery of “a new file about the use of drugs” at the hospital in 1991, implying that the two men had been moved because they had been involved in management decisions at the time (OSM100936). 


One theme of press interest in the period was the appointment of Ann Alexander, who had taken up the case of the Shipman families, as the solicitor for some of the families who had previously had relatives in the hospital. The Portsmouth News covered this appointment on 23 September 2002 (APA000164).


The Portsmouth News ran a two-page feature with a front cover picture on Mrs Mackenzie in their weekend supplement. Headed “Why did my mother die? The OAP who won’t stop fighting until she’s found the truth, the feature described Mrs Mackenzie’s long fight to get an explanation for her mother’s death (FAM000050, pp25–8). 


On 27 September, the Southern Daily Echo reported: 

“HEALTH bosses have not ruled out cuts to health services across Fareham and Gosport as they struggle to make up a GBP 500,000 deficit. The bleak financial outlook is revealed just days after Fareham and Gosport’s beleaguered primary care trust lost its chief executive, Ian Piper.” 


On 3 October, the Southern Daily Echo published a story under the headline “More cases in Gosport wards probe, suggesting that more cases had been uncovered. The article stated: 

“Ms Alexander, the solicitor who represented more than 300 relatives in the Harold Shipman inquiry, said since launching the group more people have come forward. 

We are going to be investigating some eight new claims concerning treatment of elderly patients while at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. These have come in as a result of the forming of the action group and will be investigated by our team.” (HCO000819, p2)


On 11 October, the Portsmouth News ran three articles: one headed “Probe GP back at work” (OSM100933, p1), another headed “Colleagues Support GP” (OSM100929) and a third saying that Dr Barton was not going to face any criminal charges: 

“The News understands the GMC, which has only ever formally confirmed it is ‘aware’ of Dr Barton, has decided she is not a danger to patients and is fit to continue working while it examines her past performance.

The GMC refused to verify that it was happy for Dr Barton to continue to work while she waited for a date for a possible conduct committee hearing.

However, Adrian Osborne, from Hampshire’s strategic health authority said; ‘The GMC has not advised the strategic health authority of any grounds on which it believes it would be appropriate to prevent Dr Barton from working in general practice. On this basis we believe it is appropriate for Dr Barton to continue.’” (OSM100933, p1)


On 22 October, the Portsmouth News reported that “Ten more families have asked police and Health officials to look into the deaths of their relatives at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital”. It added: “Many of these concern the administration of sedative drugs, such as diamorphine. The report quoted the police as confirming that ten relatives had made contact” (OSM100932, p1).


On 3 and 4 November, Sky News carried two broadcasts interviewing Mrs Reeves, highlighting the case of patient James Ripley and covering the family press conference organised by Ann Alexander. On 5 November, the Daily Mirror (OSM100757), The Sun (OSM100961), the Independent (DOH000148, p3) and the Birmingham Post reported that 50 families had complained about the treatment of their relatives. The Independent reported the setting up of an NHS helpline for people to contact the health authority, which had led to between “40 and 50 people” making contact (CPS000934). 


On 7 November, The Times carried an article, “Shipman style inquiry into 50 deaths at hospital. The article referred to a meeting Ann Alexander had had with Det Ch Supt Watts (he had been promoted) and Detective Inspector (Det Insp) Nigel Niven in Manchester to discuss how the Shipman investigation could aid them. The article quoted Ann Alexander: “It was a very productive meeting. They have completely reassured me about their intentions to do whatever they can to get to the bottom of whatever has been going on at this hospital” (DOH000148, p1).


Andrew Pate, a reporter with Meridian TV, requested an interview with Hampshire Constabulary. The meeting took place on 10 December and was attended by Mr Pate, Det Insp Niven, Det Ch Supt Watts and Detective Sergeant (Det Sgt) Owen Kenny. Det Insp Niven sent Mr Pate a record of the meeting. Under the headline “re Operation Rochester – Proposed Documentary, the record shows that the police sought to dissuade Mr Pate from making a documentary on the subject, at least at this stage: 

“You will recall that during this meeting you outlined to us your thoughts concerning the investigation into the Gosport War Memorial Hospital and that you were considering making a documentary. Mr Watts then raised certain issues concerning the Police perspective of such a documentary being made and the impact that the potentially adverse effect could have on the investigation. 

Having heard what was said you agreed not to pursue the project at this time. In addition, you agreed not to provide regular updates with regard to the investigation by virtue of interviewing potential witnesses.

It was, however, of course accepted by the Police that it was only right that you broadcast actual ‘news’ about the matter in general.” (HCO004543, p2)


Mr Pate has told the Panel that he has no recollection of receiving this letter. On 13 January 2004, he sought an interview with Det Ch Supt Watts “or another Hampshire Police representative over the next few weeks” (HCO502394, p1). There is no record available to the Panel of any reply to Mr Pate. There is a record of Hampshire Constabulary agreeing in January 2007 to conduct an interview with Mr Pate, following the completion of the police investigation (HCO002569).


On 20 November, the Portsmouth News reported that Mr Viggers had visited the hospital to meet patients and staff and show his support. This is covered in Chapter 10