No public inquiry into Robbie Powell’s death

The Home Office and Attorney General’s Office have blocked calls for a public inquiry into the death of a 10-year-old boy who died after a failure to carry out a medical test which would have identified a rare treatable condition.

Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan became a late convert to the idea of a public inquiry into Robbie Powell’s death just before he retired from office a year ago.

His successor, Carwyn Jones, also felt an inquiry might help the Welsh NHS “learn lessons” about future care.

It would also, no doubt, help Robbie’s family – considering they have spent years campaigning for the full facts about Robbie’s death to be made public.

However, Mr Jones took advice from Whitehall departments on the matter of a possible joint inquiry. The Welsh Assembly Government said this week: “Confirmation was received during the summer that the Home Office and Attorney General’s Department were not agreeable to the setting up of a joint inquiry.  Since then the First Minister has been considering the matter further.

“ The First Minister’s decision is not to cause a public inquiry into this matter under the Inquiries Act 2005, but to initiate an independent investigation and report into this case, which will make recommendations with a view to the future running of the health service in Wales.  The details of the investigation, including its starting date and the name of the investigator, will be made known shortly.”

Robbie Powell, of Ystradgynlais, died at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, in April 1990 of Addison’s disease after a test that could have diagnosed this rare but treatable condition was not carried out.

An inquest in 2004 returned a verdict of death by natural causes aggravated by neglect.

His father, William Powell, has campaigned for a public inquiry ever since.

Mr Jones said many issues raised by the case fell outside the Welsh Assembly Government’s responsibilities.

“The issues that fall within the Assembly Government’s remit mainly touch upon the operation of the health service in Wales,” he said. “An independent investigation by one person simply doesn’t meet the needs and requirements of this tragic case.

“While the structures and systems in the health service have changed significantly over the years, I am of the opinion that the facts of an individual case can illustrate weaknesses, or potential weaknesses, which did exist and which are relevant to the workings of the system and arrangements now in place.”

Nick Bourne, leader of the Welsh Conservatives at the Assembly, has urged Carwyn Jones to reconsider the decision.

“The process announced by Carwyn Jones is a long way from what is needed – an open and transparent review into the circumstances surrounding Robbie’s death,” he said.

“This is what Robbie’s father has been tirelessly campaigning to achieve and it is what I have been calling for since 2003.

 “An independent investigation by one person simply doesn’t meet the needs and requirements of this tragic case.

 “Before his departure from office, former First Minister Rhodri Morgan agreed that a public inquiry was the right course of action and I urge the current First Minister to look again at (his) decision.”

The new Government and Dr David Kelly

The investigation into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly might be reopened, according to the Daily Mail.

The newspaper says new Attorney General Dominic Grieve is considering a review of the suicide finding of the Lord Hutton inquiry.

The Daily Mail says the Government might also reconsider the fact that there has still been no inquest, the usual procedure in sudden or violent deaths.

Last September, for a programme called Wales This Week: The Welsh Connection, I interviewed a friend of Dr Kelly’s, author and security expert Gordon Thomas.

He disagreed with Lord Hutton’s suicide conclusion and led calls for the inquest. The Daily Mail also claims that Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is considering a request from campaigning doctors to release medical files relating to the death.
As reported here in February the previous UK Government had claimed that the post mortem examination report into the death of biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly was being kept secret to protect his family.
Campaigning MP Norman Baker had asked then Justice Minister Michael Wills who had made the decision that medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr Kelly should not be closed for 70 years.
He also asked on what legal basis the decision was made.
Mr Wills told him: “No determination has been made that the medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr. David Kelly should be closed for 70 years.
“Rather, Lord Hutton noted in his statement on 26 January that he had requested that the post mortem examination report relating to Dr. Kelly not be disclosed for 70 years in view of the distress that could be caused to Dr. Kelly’s wife and daughters.”

Hidden Killer (Asbestos): TV programme link

The “Hidden Killer” documentary about the levels of asbestos in schools is now available on the Asbestos In Schools website.
The story relates not just to Wales but to the whole of the UK and includes interviews with Scottish asbestos expert Robin Howie and with the HSE.
Just click the ITV Wales link at http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/npaper%20links/Documentaries.htm

Children who should be in our care

Fresh questions today about the way our society treats vulnerable children.
Firstly, the Welsh Refugee Council has taken the unusual step of going public with concerns about an individual case – an Afghan refugee named Mashal Jabari, an orphan who arrived in the UK last October.
At the heart of the case is a dispute over Mashal’s age.
When Mashal arrived in the UK, he was assessed as being over 18 and was sent to Cardiff where he was initially placed in a hostel for adult new arrivals.
The Welsh Refugee Council was convinced he was clearly only 14 rather than 18. It says that both his GP and social workers in Cardiff also believe he is under 18 (although social workers never got to carry out a full age assessment).
However, they have not been able to persuade the UK Border Agency.
In November, Mashal was refused asylum. On Monday, Mashal went to the Border Agency office in Cardiff with documents from his brother, Zaki, asking for his case to be reassessed because his brother has been given refugee status.
Mashal was taken into detention and spent a day in a police cell. He has now been sent to Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire ready to be “removed” on March 9.
According to the Welsh Refugee Council: “Our children’s advocacy officer visited him in Cardiff Bay police station and he was distraught beyond description. He had been put in padded clothing for fear of self-harm.”
One wonders how our society could treat a traumatised person of any age like this.
Secondly, figures revealed by the office of South Wales West AM, Alun Cairns, today again highlight the desperate shortage of social workers in Wales. The shortage means that hundreds of children have not been allocated a social worker.
“These figures show a worrying number of at-risk children in Wales have not been allocated a social worker,” said Mr Cairns.
“I was very concerned to learn that councils in my own region had large numbers of at-risk children, with 116 unallocated cases in the Swansea Council and 120 in Bridgend.”
The figures reveal a snapshot of the situation on September 1 last year but council funds are going to be squeezed further and recruiting social workers remains a difficult task.
And while vulnerable children wait to be allocated a social worker, it is impossible to know whether or not they are at serious risk.

Hidden Killer in our Schools – UPDATE

Fresh fears are raised today about the way schools are protecting teachers and pupils from potentially-deadly exposure to asbestos.
The leading authority on asbestos, the Asbestos Training and Consultancy Association, took a snapshot of 16 UK schools and found that none was meeting health and safety rules on managing the substance.
It reports: “All of the schools inspected contained asbestos with the majority being of an age and type that would be expected to contain considerable amounts.
“None of the sixteen schools were found to be fully compliant with HSE guidance and only four could be said to have an adequate standard of asbestos management. The majority had unacceptable standards which were either ineffective or unworkable and with the potential to cause a contamination or exposure incident.
“In one school the system of asbestos management was virtually non-existent despite the fact that there was a significant amount of asbestos known to be present.”
According to the chairman of ATAC John O’Sullivan: “These are not minor problems that have crept in over recent years; rather they are fundamental problems that are endemic in schools in the UK.”
And leading campaigner Michael Lees, whose wife contracted mesothelioma as a teacher and died in 2000, said: “The Government’s policy of managing asbestos in schools has failed, for this report is but further evidence of the appalling standards of asbestos managements in many schools.
“It is unacceptable that in the 21st Century a civilised society has failed to implement measures that protect the most vulnerable people in that society – our children.”
Last year What Is Wales? investigated concerns about asbestos in Welsh schools. Read the report here.

The death of Dr David Kelly

The UK Government yesterday claimed that the post mortem examination report into the death of biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly was being kept secret to protect his family.
Campaigning MP Norman Baker asked Justice Minister Michael Wills who had made the decision that medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr Kelly should not be closed for 70 years.
He also asked on what legal basis the decision was made.
Mr Wills told him: “No determination has been made that the medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr. David Kelly should be closed for 70 years.
“Rather, Lord Hutton noted in his statement on 26 January that he had requested that the post mortem examination report relating to Dr. Kelly not be disclosed for 70 years in view of the distress that could be caused to Dr. Kelly’s wife and daughters.
“The Ministry of Justice is now considering the most appropriate course of action. The options available will need to be considered carefully.”
Rhondda-born Dr Kelly became caught up in media allegations that 10 Downing Street had interfered with an intelligence report ahead of the invasion of Iraq.
On July 17, 2003, after two days of a grilling by MPs, Dr Kelly left his home in the Oxfordshire village of Southmoor and went for a walk. His body was found in woods nearby the following day. There was a knife at the scene and a cut to his left wrist.
The official line taken by the 2004 Hutton report is that Dr Kelly took his own life. But there’s still been no inquest, the usual procedure in sudden or violent deaths. A group of doctors has raised objections about Lord Hutton’s conclusions.
Last September, for a programme called Wales This Week: The Welsh Connection, I interviewed a friend of Dr Kelly’s, Welsh author and security expert Gordon Thomas.
He also disagrees with Lord Hutton.
“Twelve or thirteen doctors are saying he almost certainly was murdered,” said Thomas. “I don’t believe he committed suicide but I don’t know for certain who murdered him.”
He called for a full inquest into Dr Kelly’s death.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office, which deals with MI5 and MI6, told me at the time it was “long-standing government policy not to comment on intelligence issues”.

Not seen and not heard: immigrant children under lock and key

Around 1,000 children are locked up every year by the UK’s immigration system.
They have often fled countries where they experienced violence, war and discrimination.
The children have committed no crime but, according to the Children’s Society, many experience “depression, weight-loss, bed-wetting and even self-harm”.
The Society has joined with Bail for Immigration Detainees to create the OutCry! campaign to demand an end to this Government policy.
It has already gained a great deal of support.
The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics, GPs and Psychiatry, and the Faculty of Public Health last year issued a joint statement which said the “immigration detention of children is harmful and unacceptable” and demanding that the Government “stop detaining children without delay”.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has called on Gordon Brown to end “what is, in effect, state sponsored cruelty”.
And just before Christmas Dame Anne Owers, chief inspector of prisons, published her report on an unannounced visit to Tinsley House immigration detention centre, at Gatwick Airport, calling the conditions there “wholly unacceptable” for women and children.
At the time of that report, the UK Border Agency issued a statement to say that “treating women and children with care and compassion is a priority (for us)”.
But it is a Government policy without compassion and OutCry! believes that General Election year 2010 should be the year politicians shut the door on it.

999 Frontline

NHS workers across Wales report around 7,000 incidents of violence and aggression every year.
Nurses, doctors, paramedics and other healthcare staff are spat and sworn at, punched, attacked and verbally abused.
And these are just the cases they report.
When I asked an A&E nurse recently how many incidents go unreported she suggested “a huge amount, absolutely huge”.
“Certainly verbal abuse and lots of anti-social behaviour like that. People will urinate up against the walls outside (and) up against equipment. You will give people a bowl because they’re going to be sick. They are quite capable of using that bowl but they’ll vomit on the floor. They’ll choose to spit at you. All of that I would say has gone unreported.”
* ITV Wales current affairs series Wales This Week is featuring a special programme on violence against hospital staff. ‘999 Frontline’ is on ITV Wales, at 7.30pm tonight (Thursday, January 28).

** The programme is available to view here.

Lady in the Lake

Prison snitch evidence is a central feature of many alleged and proven miscarriages of justice.
This sort of evidence was important to the conviction of Gordon Park, the so-called ‘Lady in the Lake’ killer, who was found dead in his prison cell on Monday.
Today, in the Daily Mail, Bob Woffinden explains why Mr Park’s family will continue to fight to prove his innocence in spite of his death.

Pleural plaque sufferers battle the Government

Government lawyers are considering whether to restore compensation rights to sufferers of pleural plaque – a scarring of the lung, mainly caused by exposure to asbestos.
Sufferers, including many in Wales, used to receive compensation – but that was stopped in October 2007 when the Law Lords rejected an appeal against an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal in January 2006. The 2006 appeal was brought by Norwich Union and Zurich Financial Services.
The Law Lords’ decision brought to an end a 20-year right to claim compensation of between £6,000 and £10,000.
But sufferers refused to take the decision lying down. They launched a campaign to get the decision overruled and, in July 2008, the Government announced a year-long consultation on whether to award sufferers of pleural plaques around £5,000 in damages.
The Ministry of Justice promised to publish the results of the consultation by July 21, 2009.
But Justice Secretary Jack Straw then announced instead that a decision would not be made until after the summer recess.
Now Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn (Labour) believes the Government might be getting cold feet about the costs of restoring compensation.
He told the House of Commons this week: “For over 20 years, the courts recognised that this was a compensatable illness. Everyone accepted that, and the insurers and the Government put money aside, until this dreadful decision by the Law Lords. One of the sorriest aspects of the case was that the Law Lords agreed with the lawyers who said that pleural plaques did not constitute a compensatable injury and did not cause any sort of depression or illness.”
Mr Hepburn noted that it is “estimated that pleural plaques sufferers are 1,000 times more likely than any other section of society to develop a more serious form of asbestos-related cancer”.
A recent report by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council said that up to 90,000 people a year may develop pleural plaques, up to 20 years after coming into contact with asbestos.