Laura Booth, love, mashed potato and peas

Laura Booth’s inquest started this week after four long years. I’m not going to write much here*, I’m too enraged and upset for her parents (and for the families who have had similar experiences). Laura’s death (aged 21) was originally labelled as natural causes. Her inquest came about after Jayne McCubbin intervened.

The inquest is being live tweeted by George Julian. Following a now familiar route of a reputation obsessed NHS Trust instructing a well practiced barrister who draws on a bag of grubby tactics (parent/patient blame, witness coaching/discrediting, obfuscation, etc…) with no apparent regard for the devastated family sitting in front of him.

[While revolting, it’s evidence of some change as these deaths were pretty much ignored with no inquest or scrutiny before 2015. A legacy of #JusticeforLB and George’s fortitude, expertise and kindness.]

This week Laura’s parents listened to their daughter reduced to an ‘unstable and complex case’ with ‘a mental age of 18-24 months’. Too complex to feed while an anecdote of noshing a bit of mashed potato and peas was repeatedly shoehorned under the coroner’s nose to try to discredit weighty evidence of malnourishment.

She ate mashed potato and peas.

Ma am, I want to make sure this witness who wasn’t here yesterday is aware evidence has been given she ate mashed potato and peas.

Laura was starving.

So many questions raised by witness testimony carefully obscured by the work of the Trust’s barrister. Double take moments lost in ‘moving on swiftly’ sleight of hand activity. A medic who claimed an abbreviation in medical notes always confused him. A nutrition supplement not stocked by the Trust only sourced a week later despite copious notes that the patient hadn’t eaten for weeks. No feeding charts kept because, because ‘the parents’.

Starving.

We’ve seen across the live tweeted inquests that coroners are often ill-equipped to understand and respond to the deaths they are examining. However well meaning or enlightened they may be (and many aren’t), they face the likes of Paul Spencer (or Peas as he is now in my mind) and other regular state funded barristers. Families don’t have recourse to funded legal representation and don’t know they need to. The years (decades) of work these barristers have in cementing relationships with coroners and the trusts they work for is pervasive. I was struck earlier when Peas told the coroner to make a note about a particular point. Evidence of chummy ease and privilege dripping across the coronial system while Laura’s parents sit traumatised.

Various Trust staff gave evidence this week, meithering about Laura’s lack of nutrition while doing crap all about it. An uncomfortable witnessing of buck passing, of trying to duck out of responsibility, claims of lack of ‘specialist knowledge’ alongside claims that the best care possible ‘in the circumstances’ had been provided.

Laura was starving.

There were drops of sense and brilliance. I remain in awe of these drops of sense and brilliance [I know I shouldn’t]. The piecemeal yet rock solid set of allies. This time Prof Sam Ahmedzai, a retired palliative consultant who became friends with the Booth family, especially Laura with whom he had a lovely relationship. He described how:

Earlier, Dr Patel an expert gastroenterology witness took the stand. A shift in the shape and tone of evidence. Dr P was baffled by illogical evidence. You try and feed patients, he said. The risks involved in not feeding patients are obvious. Staff didn’t engage with these obvious risks and yet there was email discussion about the risks of stopping nutrition. Dr P said no one gets better by continuing to ‘try harder’ which is what the records were suggesting and this emphasis places responsibility on patients to get better. Which is wrong. He said [bleary screen] Laura’s parents had tried as hard as they could to help her. Medical intervention was essential.

Storm clouds must be gathering in Trust towers in the face of this unassailable sense, knowledge and expertise, I thought, reading the tweets. Dr P couldn’t be dismissed as a ‘biased’ family friend.

An adjournment was immediately requested.

Ma’am I’d like to invite you to adjourn to enable me to take instructions from my team here, I’ve received lots of instructions…

I can imagine the maelstrom Dr Patel generated with his openness and honesty. We witnessed it during Connor’s inquest. Footy match type cheers when a witness ‘scored’ for the Trust and agitation/mobile phone activity when sense was spoken. Virtual inquests are different in terms of the visibility of these reactions though the distress experienced by the Booths was obvious as it was mentioned by the coroner.

Cross-examination restarted and the barrister kicked off with a question around how complex Laura was. Previous witnesses had expanded their complexity claims under questioning to the point she was the most complex patient in the whole, wide world. Dr P said, yes, Laura was unique and robustly deflected clunky attempts to place the blame on her (and her parents). Peas immediately turned to the speed with which Dr P had written his expert report.

Reflections

The inquest has been adjourned till Tuesday. Leaving Laura’s parents and family in a liminal space of further brutalisation with more to come. The actions of Trust barristers are deliberate, calculated, cruel, practiced and formulaic. It’s becoming possible to anticipate the direction questioning will take. We’ve faced the same barrister (and colleagues from his chambers) in various proceedings as have other families.

The archive of live tweets George has been creating since 2015 is now a substantial evidence base which enables the identification of similarities and patterns underpinning the preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities, and the practiced response of the state to these deaths. A starter for ten:

Preventable deaths:

People are denied basic health care and dying of starvation, drowning, scabies, constipation with little comment.

Medical (or even public health) knowledge is erased when health professionals come into contact with patients with learning disabilities.

No one takes responsibility for the patient’s health care. Action is punted into the next week/never never without scrutiny.

There’s a collusion around this abdication of responsibility. An acceptance that doing nothing is fine. No one asks ‘why?’

This, in turn, is underpinned by a belief/acceptance or even desire that the patient will die early.

State funded response:

Protecting the Trust’s reputation is key.

Winning is key. There is no low too low to sink to in terms of winning points.

The patient is non human and therefore irrelevant. Their family are non-human by association.

The coroner is a sitting duck in terms of schmoozing with fake charm and too often oven ready to be swayed by othering techniques.

I hope the Booths are able to find some peace this weekend. And hold onto the moments of the inquest which were about love. Laura, her mum and dad. Prof A. Love and social justice. Dr P. George Julian. Jayne McGubbins. And everyone following, retweeting or engaging with the live coverage.

*Sorry, wrote more than I expected.

Frank and the Super 8 movies

An overland truck trip in the late 80s. Amersham to Kenya with a bunch of strangers who answered an ad in Time Out. The above thread continued to explain how 12 years ago on holiday in Devon (the yurt gig where Connor thought the farmer was wanted by Interpol) we met a photographer who said that the last Super 8 developer globally was closing that October.

By this time, these two tatty films had travelled across Africa for 6 or so months, been sent home to me in the post (I jumped truck halfway through the trip), and moved house at least 6 times. They featured on this blog during a half arsed decluttering period back in 2011.

I tweeted asking if anyone knew of anywhere that developed this film or if I should finally chuck em. Bruce Bennett, a film studies academic, pointed me at Gauge Films who, in turn, said the Super 8 Reversal Lab in the Netherlands was my best bet. There I ‘met’ Frank.

Frank talked me through the process of getting the films developed by an arm of Canadian Film Rescue International. I had to courier them to him by Dec 17, prepare myself for a Brexit related hike in price [groan] and not expect to hear anything until March this year. The charge was pricey (you had to pay a set fee if there was nothing on the film and more if there was).

Cripes.

It was unlikely there would be anything to see given how much time had passed. Could I really not find out?

I’d pretty much forgotten the whole shebang when Frank emailed this week to say there was footage and the films were being couriered back home. Wow.

It was exciting holding the super smart package earlier. The revisiting, rediscovery even, of a piece of the past. The transformation of yellow ripped covering, of black snappy plastic casing and film into something else. I emptied the carefully wrapped content onto my lap.

What the actual fuck? Noooooooo….. I shook the padded envelope. Just a postcard. And two reels of film.

What do I do with these?! I asked Rich.

Er, find a cine projector…

We both laughed. He laughed more than I did.

I dug out Frank’s email to work out what had gone wrong. There was mention of a download. I emailed him and within seconds had the link. Two files. The first was black and white arial footage of Niagara Falls. [No idea. Rich laughed even more.] The second, 3 minutes of eerie, silent, grainy, washed out, truck trip footage. [40 seconds below]

The significance of holding onto artefacts is something I ponder over. My recent skip experience was a cracking example of a ‘gone schmon’ phenomenon. A mountain of stuff erased. The loft lighter. I’ve one sister who’s a stern custodian of the keys to a life clear of unnecessary stuff. I imagine her baffled, impatient even, by the tale of Frank and the Super 8 movies. Of the holding onto crappy, dusty bits of plastic for decades. Not responding to the random deadline issued on a Devon campsite or bothering to do anything with them before.

My sifting of old stuff has also underlined an unrealisation of anticipatory promise which oddly doesn’t disappoint. You can’t ‘rediscover’ parts of the past because they have passed: the richness and depth of sensations; smells, textures, sounds, feelings; the context, the person you were at that time and those around you. This is fine.

At the same time the capturing [of what and why?], the sharing [with who(m) and why?], the keeping and revisiting is important. The story of my Super 8 film, the brief piece of footage taken across a three month period in the autumn of 1988 by my 23 year old oblivious to white privilege self is (living) social history. The story, the film, has woven new strands involving Frank, Bruce Bennett, Rich, my sis, readers of this post, generating further riches and meaning.

Now I need to find out if my parents ever did a fly past of Niagara Falls. Or let Frank know there’s been a mix up.