Chief constable apologises for ‘distress caused’ by legacy of force investigations over Gosport hospital deaths
Hampshire Constabulary has agreed to “step back” from leading any future inquiry into the deaths of more than 450 hospital patients after admitting losing the confidence of the grieving families.
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney has apologised for her force’s part in the “distress caused” in three investigations spanning an eight-year period that were not of the “highest quality” or “looked widely enough” at the evidence.
The chief constable said it was time to hand over the investigation into the deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital to another force “within days” – with her officers “ready to support” in any way they could.
Her admission comes after the Hampshire force fended off calls for criminal prosecutions following the report of the Gosport Independent Panel which found the lives of 456 people were shortened after they were given powerful painkillers in hospital.
Ms Pinkney, who admitted 24 hours earlier her investigators had been blindsided by “not having previously seen” some of the information in the damning 370-page report, said she accepted the panel’s findings.
Questioning her force’s future role in any subsequent inquiry, the Hampshire chief said her “starting point” involved the “importance of trust and confidence”.
In a lengthy statement she said: “I have listened to the reported views of the families and those who represent them.
“Having taken time to carefully consider the matter, I have made the decision that Hampshire Constabulary must take a step back.
“I certainly would never want to absolve my force of its responsibilities, but we cannot hide from the fact that the legacy of what has happened has caused considerable damage to confidence in the agencies involved, including my own.
“In its report, the panel has given a clear view on the quality of the investigations by police and other agencies.”
The force previously carried out three investigations between 1998 and 2006 into the deaths at Gosport hospital but despite detailed assessments from medical experts being presented to the Crown Prosecution Service and Treasury Counsel – the evidential test for prosecution was “not met”.
Her statement went on: “The force has always acknowledged that the first two police investigations were not of a high quality. The report makes clear that the third did not look widely enough.
“We accept the panel’s findings and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for our part in the distress caused to families for so many years.”
Ms Pinkey said she had already instructed her officers to “prepare plans” to hand over the operational reins to another lead force “in the coming days”.
She added: “This will be taken forward as quickly as possible. I very much hope that this transparent approach will be echoed across all agencies and the momentum that the panel’s report has brought can continue.
Her statement came just hours after stressing the importance of taking time to “properly digest the significance of what has been revealed”.
On Thursday (June 21) she had called for “all relevant agencies to come together to enable decisions about the next steps to be made in a way that is well considered and transparent to all of the families.
The panel, led by the former Bishop of Liverpool the Rt Rev James Jones, found that whistleblowers and families were ignored as they attempted to raise concerns about the administration of medication at the hospital.
It also said, taking into account missing records, a further 200 patients may have suffered a similar fate.
In her latest statement, Ms Pinkney praised the panel for their role in “shining the light, not just on this case but more widely in terms of the safety of patients in the health and social care system”.
Following the release of the report, Health and Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs said that further investigations should be carried out by organisations “not involved” in previous probes – hinting that Hampshire Constabulary should bring in another force.
He did not rule out criminal charges being brought after a “catalogue of failings by the local NHS, Hampshire Constabulary, the GMC, the NMC, the coroners and – as steward of the system – the Department of Health”.
Mr Hunt said the “blame” culture in the NHS has to change to help uncover scandals such as the deaths at Gosport hospital.
He said it was sometimes made too difficult for whistleblowers to raise concerns or for medics to admit mistakes, and the NHS had to be more open to acknowledging problems and learning from them.
The Gosport panel found that, over a 12-year period as clinical assistant, Dr Jane Barton was “responsible for the practice of prescribing which prevailed on the wards”.
The panel said the case of GP Harold Shipman, who was jailed in 2000 for murdering 15 patients, had “cast a long shadow” over events at the hospital.
The perception that Dr Barton might be a “lone wolf” operating alone “rapidly took root”, the report said.
In 2010, the General Medical Council ruled that Dr Barton, who has since retired, was guilty of multiple instances of professional misconduct relating to 12 patients who died at the hospital.