Belfast Telegraph

Parents of girl at centre of Hyponatraemia Inquiry to take stand at hearing

Tragedy: Claire Roberts
Tragedy: Claire Roberts
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The parents of a young girl at the centre of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry will give evidence at an inquest into her death today.

Alan and Jennifer Roberts are hoping for answers about what caused the death of their only daughter Claire on October 23, 1996, at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

The nine-year-old schoolgirl from east Belfast was admitted two days earlier with symptoms of drowsiness and vomiting.

The original death certificate gave her cause of death as cerebral oedema (a form of brain inflammation) and status epilepticus, but this was called into question by a UTV documentary.

Yesterday a world-renowned brain expert who made headlines at shaken baby syndrome court trials appeared at the fourth day of this week's fresh inquest in Belfast's Laganside Courthouse.

Noted neuropathologist Dr Waney Squier told Coroner Joe McCrisken there was no significant evidence of encephalitis, a rare but serious illness that causes inflammation of the brain.

Her findings mirrored those of another expert, Professor Brian Harding, who said the previous day that there is insufficient evidence to support a diagnosis of encephalitis in this case.

The Hyponatraemia Inquiry, headed by Sir John O'Hara QC, ruled in 2012 that Claire's death had been preventable and ordered a new inquest, which started on Monday.

Sir John ruled that medical professionals were involved in a cover-up following the tragedy.

Hyponatraemia occurs when there is a shortage of sodium in the bloodstream and can happen due to receiving excess fluid.

Dr Squier appeared via video-link as an expert in cases where babies had died as a result of suspected abusive head trauma or shaken baby syndrome.

She was unable to offer a definitive diagnosis of encephalitis and said the "minimal" inflammation of Claire's brain could have been a reaction to the child "having been on a ventilator for some time".

Dr Squier was struck off the medical register in 2016 in relation to six babies about whom she had provided reports and given evidence.

She appealed the decision, and while it was found she committed serious professional misconduct, she was not dishonest.

On Monday consultant microbiologist Professor Keith Cartwright said he no longer agreed that viral encephalitis played a role in the death - his original opinion given at the inquiry.

Dr Brian Herron, one of the pathologists who contributed to the original autopsy report, has insisted pathological evidence showed "mild inflammation" had been present in the brain.

Medical experts have so far indicated that cerebral oedema was the cause of Claire's death, but they have differing medical opinions as to what triggered it.

Mr McCrisken is due to deliver his findings tomorrow.

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