Belfast Telegraph

Claire Robert's parents welcome new inquest into hospital death

By Lisa Smyth

The Attorney General has ordered a new inquest into the death of one of the children at the centre of Hyponatraemia Inquiry.

John Larkin QC has requested a second inquest into the circumstances leading to the death of nine-year-old Claire Roberts at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in 1996.

Claire's parents, Alan and Jennifer, who have campaigned tirelessly to uncover the truth about their daughter's tragic death, welcomed "the decisive and definitive action taken by the Attorney General".

Mr Roberts said that between 2004 and 2006, false and misleading information had been supplied to the coroner.

He continued: "The role of the coroner is to establish the correct cause of death, something we as parents have been denied for more than 21 years.

"It will be for other agencies, in turn, to explore the efforts of medical professionals to conceal the truth about Claire's death.

"We, as parents, are more determined than ever that the truth shall prevail, those responsible made accountable and that justice is served."

The Belfast Health & Social Care Trust declined to comment on the latest development.

The chair of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry, John O'Hara QC, was heavily critical of the then associate medical director of the Royal Group of Hospitals, Peter Walby, for his actions relating to the original inquest into Claire's death which was held in 2006.

In this report published at the end of January, Mr O'Hara said Mr Walby, who was also in charge of litigation for the trust, "appears to have been more concerned with the interests and reputation of the trust than with the lessons to be learned".

He continued: "Mr Walby was in the unusually influential position where he could decide whether some witnesses provided statements to the coroner or not and furthermore where he could and did, edit, correct and partially redraft their statements.

"He was so placed that he could protect the interests of the trust at a time when his duty was first and foremost to assist the coroner.

"The trust should not have allowed the potential for such conflict to arise."

Mr Roberts met with Mr Larkin following the publication of the long-awaited report to impress on him the importance of a second inquest into Claire's death.

Meanwhile, the PSNI has set up a team to examine the findings of the inquiry report.

The inquiry was set up to examine the deaths of five children in Northern Ireland hospitals that were linked to hyponatraemia - a condition that occurs when there is a shortage of sodium in the bloodstream.

It found that the deaths of three of the children were preventable and the result of medical negligence.

Mr O'Hara revealed he was planning to write to the head of the Coroner's Service, Mrs Justice Keegan, to warn coroners to "probe more carefully and more deeply when they receive information from hospitals about the care of patients in hospitals".

Belfast Telegraph

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