Patients and medical staff who were on the same ward as a woman who died after giving birth at Antrim Area Hospital are set to be interviewed as part of a police investigation.
Coroner John Leckey asked detectives to interview midwives and one of the doctors, Colin Winters, involved in the care of Janet Brown from Lisalbanagh Road in Magherafelt, as well as two women who were on the same ward as the new mum prior to her sudden death in September 2006.
At a hearing at Belfast Coroners Court yesterday, Mr Leckey also referred to a letter he received from a brother of Mrs Brown, Arnold Scott, expressing concerns about the length of sick leave taken by a midwife following the sudden death.
The letter states: “A further concern that the family has is that m idwife (Catherine) Carey was on extended sick leave, over two years, following Janet’s death on September 13, 2006.
“We would suggest that this is not a normal reaction for a nurse with 30 plus years experience. Tragic as the events were on September 13, a midwife with Nurse Carey’s experience must have been involved in many difficult circumstances in her career.
“It may be that Nurse Carey witnessed some activity on the ward that night connected with Janet’s death and has not been able to deal with it. We would suggest that she be interviewed by the PSNI regarding this matter as her action could be construed as someone under duress who cannot face going back to work.”
It is the latest twist in the long running investigation into the circumstances which led to the death of 28-year-old Mrs Brown.
A post mortem found that she died as a result of morphine intoxication and the inquest into her death has been probing how the fatal dose of the drug came to be in her system
The investigation has been hindered by the fact that vital evidence was dumped by staff before they could be examined.
Gerry McAlinden, counsel acting on behalf of Northern Health Trust, argued against Mr Scott’s request for police to question staff and patients, claiming it was verging towards becoming a “blame attributing exercise” and a “witch hunt in which people are becoming exposed to police questioning during the conduct of an inquest”.
But Michael Lavery QC, counsel representing the widower of Mrs Brown, said: “As the inquest has gone on, the family’s concerns have grown and grown and grown and it is hardly surprising when they see the attitude of the trust. What is the trust afraid of?”
While Mr Leckey agreed that the move to ask police to question staff and patients following the opening of the inquest was highly unusual, he maintained that it is necessary to uncover as much information regarding the death of Mrs Brown as possible.
He said: “There is no evidence that the Baxter equipment malfunctioned, therefore it is an unexplained event and we have to consider the possibility of human intervention, whether deliberate or accidental with unintended consequences.”
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Scott said: “All we are looking for is the truth. If there’s nothing else out there, at least we tried.
“It’s a super development for the family.”
Yesterday’s hearing was originally convened to allow legal representatives to further discuss a report by an independent expert which came to light last week.
Mr Leckey ordered Mr McAlinden to return to court yesterday and name the person who made the decision not to disclose the report, by Professor Nicholas Bateman, a consultant physician and toxicologist, to the inquest.
The Northern Trust performed a dramatic U-turn last Monday and released the report it had commissioned — as a result of a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Mrs Brown’s family.
Up until this point, the trust had refused to disclose the contents of the report under legal professional privilege.
While he did not name a specific individual, Mr McAlinden explained that the decision was made between the Central Services Agency and the corporate governance body at the trust.
He added: “The report was not shared with any clinician.”
The case was adjourned to give time for police to question staff and patients.