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Coroner faces hearing over nursing home deaths.

Byline: By Emma Brady Health Correspondent

Birmingham coroner Aidan Cotter will find himself at the centre of a landmark case this week as he faces a judicial review into his decision not to hold inquests into a number of deaths at a city nursing home in 2002.

Mr Cotter's appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Friday follows five years of campaigning by Hazel Bicknell, whose father Leslie Vines died ten days after he was admitted to Maypole Nursing Home in Kings Heath.

The coroner had refused to hold inquests into 27 deaths at the home, run by Dr Jamalapuram Hari Gopal and his wife Pratury Samarajya Lakshmi, claiming there was no suggestion they were caused "deliberately or unlawfully".

Both doctors were struck off by the General Medical Council in January 2006 following its own investigation.

Just weeks before an inspection by National Care Standards Council officials had highlighted 16 cases where there was particular cause for concern.

Mr Cotter reviewed these, then said no inquests would be held into those residents' deaths - including Mr Vines'.

Doctors at Heartlands Hospital had declared the 77-year-old war veteran, who suffered from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, to be "as fit as a 21-year-old"

when he was discharged in August 2002.

He was admitted to the nursing home on August 27, but died - according to his notes - of bronchial pneumonia on September 7, 2002.

Mrs Bicknell, who lives in Shirley, Solihull, said: "I know Dad was healthy when he left Heartlands, doctors said he was as fit as a 21-year-old, but within 48 hours of going into the home he was reduced to a shuffling wreck.

"I've never believed the home's explanation for his death, I believe he died as a result of an overdose of medication, because he was often 'zombie-like' when we visited.

"I want to know what really happened but I don't think we will ever get the God's honest truth, even if an inquest is ordered, because people just aren't bothered about finding out how he died. They just don't care."

The 54-year-old, who cares full-time for her disabled husband, added: "I just wish some of the other families whose loved ones also died at the home would have come forward, not just to bolster my Dad's case but to fight the system with me.

"I just want to get it in black and white that my Dad didn't die from natural causes but as a result of neglect and the way he was treated at the Maypole. All I want is justice for him."

Mr Cotter, who had voiced his concerns over possible "conflict of interests"

where GPs owned nursing homes and acted as the residents' doctor as was the case at Maypole, has refused to discuss the upcoming judicial review.

He told The Birmingham Post: "I will not be discussing any details of the case or the judicial review before Friday.

"I will be attending. I will attend any court case I'm called to as it's a matter of courtesy. One of my deputies will make sure work will go on in Birmingham."

The family's solicitor Victoria Blackstone, of Birmingham-based law firm Irwin Mitchell, believes this to be the first time the city's coroner has been subject of a judicial review.

She added: "I am not aware of any similar cases where a coroner has been called to a judicial review, it's a very rare step that has been taken.

"Last year Mr Cotter said there would be no inquest into the death of Leslie Vines and we believe there should have been a proper investigation into his death at the Maypole Nursing Home.

"Although the GMC struck off Dr Gopal and his wife Pratury Lakshmi, its investigation did not look into Mr Vines' death or the others that happened at the home during 2002.

"We are asking the judge to issue a mandatory order for an inquest to be held into Mr Vines' death, and we are hopeful it will be successful, but how it affects other cases in the future we will just have to wait and see."

emmabrady@mrn.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

All I want is justice for him Hazel Bicknell, talking about her dead father
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 15, 2007
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