Belfast Telegraph

Legal history as mum wins fight for inquest into her stillborn son

BY DONNA DEENEY AND ALAN ERWIN

A woman whose baby was stillborn has made legal history after the Court of Appeal ruled that an inquest can be held for the child.

Twelve years ago, Siobhan Desmond delivered her son Axel stillborn at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry – one of 112 such cases that year across Northern Ireland.

Since then she has been seeking answers about his death through an inquest.

However, coroner John Leckey believed he only had the power to hold an inquest into a death that followed a live birth.

But yesterday that was overturned in a landmark case taken by Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin on behalf of Ms Desmond.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Desmond said yesterday was the first time in the 12 years since her baby Axel died that she felt real joy.

"My son Axel never got to cry out or blink his eyes, but he has changed the way stillborn babies are defined forever," the Londonderry woman said.

"Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of the Attorney General John Larkin, my son has gone from being an 'entity' to being a human being.

"As John Larkin said, 'Now he is one of us'. I am going to get that engraved on Axel's headstone."

Mr Larkin, who arrived in court at the end of yesterday's judgment, embraced Ms Desmond.

"The inquest into the circumstances of his death will answer questions I have asked for 12 long, painful years," she continued. "Importantly, it will also open the doors for other mothers and fathers who have endured the same loss as I have, so that they too will get an inquest and be given the information that can only be unveiled in an inquest.

"That didn't happen when I had Axel but now it will, and this decision is as much for the hundreds of other stillborn children as it is for my son."

Yesterday's ruling means the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 will be amended to include unborn babies capable of being born alive but who die in the womb.

Legal arguments centred on a point in the legislation said to link "child destruction" with instances of a deceased person.

The Attorney General contended that the 1959 Act clearly envisaged an inquest being held into the demise of a foetus in utero capable of being born alive.

Such a foetus must therefore fall within the definition of a "deceased person", Mr Larkin argued.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, agreed.

BACKGROUND

In July 2012, Attorney General John Larkin directed the Coroner's Court to hold an inquest for Axel Desmond. But senior coroner John Leckey said he would be acting outside his powers and refused.

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