The sentencing hearing for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution took place this week. The #JusticeforLB bus made a surprise appearance at Oxford Crown Court thanks to Alicia Wood who brought it back from Spain where it’s rested since CaminoLB 2016. Rosie, Will, Owen and Tom joined other family members, friends and more for the final day of sentencing yesterday.
Within minutes we heard the judgement would be delayed until 10am next Monday. Disappointing but five days doesn’t register on my delay scale any more given we’ve waited 1825 days to get this far.
A backdrop to the two day hearing was that Sloven had pleaded guilty to the charges before any charges were brought by the HSE. The new CEO Nick Broughton held his hands up to say ‘fair cop’ and accepted systemic failings between 2011-2016.
[Now known as The Percy Years with an ‘HSJ CEO of the Year’ award as a logo.]
Broughton’s statement included open acknowledgement of the way in which we’d had to fight for justice and how wrong this was.
#JusticeforLB sunshine at last penetrated the black establishment clouds. A position we didn’t anticipate back in the day.
This welcome development took a bit of a drubbing by the end of the second day but more of that later.
Bernard Thorogood was acting counsel for the HSE. He spent Monday and yesterday morning laying out the case for prosecution.
Roger and TJ
On Monday this involved the death of TJ Colvin in 2012 at a Sloven unit in Hampshire. In 2013 the coroner found no systemic failures in TJ’s care and it was case closed. That is, until the pesky #JusticeforLB kids persuaded David Nicholson to commission a review into the unexpected deaths in Sloven’s mental health/learning disability provision between 2011-2015. This was to become the Mazars report. An extraordinary review which enabled further scrutiny of TJ’s death.
The details were harrowing. Failing after failing after failing in TJ’s care. The HSE case underpinned by one of the quiet heroes on the long road to justice; Mike Holder. Mike, a health and safety expert, had in early 2012 carefully and meticulously provided details of the ligature and other safety risks in the Trust. He resigned when the Exec Board batted these concerns away like a sleepy bluebottle caught up in a boring meeting room on a hot summer’s day.
He identified 21 long telephone wires across Sloven in-patient provision. The replacement cost for each was £55.
“£1100…” spluttered Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. Yes. £1100 to reduce the risk of serious harm to patients and prevent TJ’s death.
As Bernard* spoke Broughton sitting on the Sloven bench looked devastated. This was in contrast to LB’s inquest when the Sloven team gleefully treated the process like a game of Top Trumps.
Roger Colvin chose to read his victim statement to the court. This isn’t always allowed apparently but Lord J said yes and we heard him describe his family’s devastation at her death and the carelessness that surrounded it.
The packed public gallery was silent.
Connor’s case began on Monday afternoon and carried over to Tuesday. The same detail we know inside out but with a health and safety focus. It was heartbreaking to again hear how appallingly Connor was failed and how easily preventable his death was. The overlap between his and TJ’s deaths were grotesque.
In an unexpected move Bernard T detailed my interactions with the Trust ending with this:
I can’t describe how – I don’t have the words here… powerful? Moving? – it was to hear this said in court. Bernard effectively produced a balm for the raw guilt I continue to drag around. I hadn’t realised what having ‘your day in court’ could mean.
The defence and dirty dealings
The Trust accepted pretty much the whole of the HSE case. The defence won’t take long I naively thought. We’d been prepared that this section would be pretty unsavoury and it was. It was basically about dosh and reducing how much the trust would be fined.
“Every pound fined is a pound less available for future patient care…”
There’s a one third ‘discount’ (I know) in place because it’s a public sector body. Fair enough. But given the thousands racked up by Sloven on legal fees to destroy families, paying mates £3m for shonky viral training and rewarding Percy with a £200k + pay off, the arguments presented were foul to sit through.
The defence barrister proceeded to do a ‘I’m sorry but…’ type number as he undermined Broughton’s ‘fair cop’ position with some dirty little dealings. These included the argument that the coroner had found no systemic failings at TJ’s inquest.
We saw in the earlier link to TJ’s inquest coverage that her family were deeply disappointed with the coroner’s lacklustre engagement with what happened. The same coroner presided over numerous inquests relating to Sloven without, ironically, finding any systemic failings. A cracking example of how coroners may be ‘best placed’ but may still do a crap job.
The barrister also seemed to suggest that the observation levels for TJ were adequate and the Judge should differentiate between her case and Connor’s in his decision on fine amount. The HSE case was a careful compilation of layers of failings with pivotal chronological points at which the Trust should have acted and didn’t. Trying to pick away at what happened to TJ was unnecessary and cruel for her family to listen to. The point had earlier been made that criminal prosecutions are a very last step for the HSE.
The barrister moved onto the individual responsibility of staff members again trying to introduce some wriggle room into the hitherto accepted systemic failings pot. Then in an unexpected move mother blame was back on the table.
Setting aside the fact Murphy’s performance was found to be woeful rather than ‘wanting’ there was no reflection that Sloven’s failure to refer Murphy was further evidence of how shite they were. Instead he tried to weave a further vexatious mother thread taking the shine off the apparently heartfelt declarations in Broughton’s statement.
That’s where we’re at really. Evidence is now done. No more nasties for us to hear (I hope). Sentencing judgement on Monday.
Finally a few thanks…
We’re in awe of Bernard and the HSE team who were meticulous and thorough in their investigation and case building. They were also kind, humane and sensitive throughout.
Thanks to everyone who pitched up from all over (and those who followed the hearing on twitter). The judge could not have failed to be moved by such a strong collective showing on both days demonstrating that TJ, Connor and all the other people who have died preventable deaths in careless, inhumane settings count.
Finally thanks to the Witness service at Oxford Crown Court. I was a bit bowled over having a bespoke person take good care of us during the hearing.
*Apologies if first name is not appropriate here.