Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

I am doing this for baby Axel, says mother of stillborn son as she vows to fight on for inquest

A mother whose only child was born dead 12 years ago has vowed to take her fight for an inquest to the European Courts.

Siobhan Desmond's son Axel was stillborn at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry in October 2001, two weeks after her due date, but the law as it stands means there will not be an inquest.

She has relentlessly campaigned for the Coroner's Court to hold a hearing, but yesterday she was dealt another blow when a High Court judge ruled that Northern Ireland's senior coroner was right to refuse the inquest.

Mr Justice Treacy held that the relevant legislation does not give authority for an examination of the circumstances surrounding baby Axel's death because he died before birth.

He rejected a bid by Attorney General John Larkin QC to have coroner John Leckey compelled to oversee a tribunal.

In a case centring on interpretations of whether an actual death had occurred, Mr Larkin issued judicial review proceedings after Mr Leckey declined to comply with his direction to hold an inquest.

The coroner refused last year on the basis that it would be beyond his legal powers.

Ms Desmond said she never expected that Mr Justice Treacy would rule in her favour.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, she said: "I went into the court not expecting to hear the judge say yes to what I am asking for, but it is still a wrench to be refused.

"I am gutted, there's no denying that and this is taking a toll on my health, but every time I get a setback I have to adjust my mindset and pick myself up and carry on.

"I have psyched myself towards hearing 'no' but I will keep going until I hear the one 'yes' that will give me the answers I need that could come from an inquest.

"I have great faith in the Attorney General's Office and in my own legal team and I expect the next stage of this fight will begin within the next day or so.

"I understand that there is a lot of nervousness within the medical profession about what I am seeking to do, but this is not about apportioning blame. This is about a mother finding out what happened to her son that resulted in his death in the womb."

Lawyers for the Attorney General argued that an inquest should be held for a stillborn child who was capable of being born alive.

It was contended that the Coroners Act (NI) 1959 does not include any clear prohibition.

But counsel for the coroner claimed the legislation only covers death after a live birth.

The judge identified a series of policy issues at the core of the challenge, such as: What is a person? Is it possible to die before being born? And is there a legal difference between 'life' inside and outside the womb? Despite expressing sympathy for Ms Desmond, he said such philosophically fundamental questions should not be addressed by a first instance court in this case.

The most likely next step will be that the case goes to the Court of Appeal – a move that Ms Desmond is already preparing for.

She said: "I fully understand just how big this is and I understand that the judge might be reluctant to make a judgment but there will be three judges in the Court of Appeal, and then there is Strasbourg, which I am not ruling out either.

"I was so full of love and passion for Axel and I will be that same level of love and passion into getting the law changed so that inquests can be heard in the cases of stillbirths.

"I am doing this for Axel."

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