A Divisional Court (Lady Justice Whipple and Mr Justice Holgate) has ordered that fresh inquests must be held into the deaths of three elderly patients who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in Hampshire in 1998. Peter Skelton KC and Jim Duffy represent a number of families whose loved ones died at the hospital. They are instructed by Emma Jones of Leigh Day.


The deaths are among those examined in the 2018 report of the Gosport Independent Panel, chaired by the then Bishop of Liverpool, John Jones. The Panel found that “the lives of over 450 people were shortened as a direct result of the pattern of prescribing and administering opioids that had become the norm at the hospital, and that probably at least another 200 patients were similarly affected.”

The High Court’s decision follows years of campaigning by the victims’ families, and comes a month after Kent Police announced that they were interviewing 19 suspects in relation to the events at Gosport, which took place between 1988 and 2001.

The Deceased

Gladys Richards was 91 when she was transferred to Gosport on 17 August 1998 following a partial hip replacement. Mrs Richards was administered diamorphine, midazolam and hyoscine using a syringe driver, and died within four days of her arrival.

Arthur Cunningham (79) was admitted to the hospital on 21 July 1998 due to the fact that renovations were taking place at his nursing home. He developed a sacral ulcer and was admitted to Dryad Ward for active treatment. His nursing home was asked to keep his place open for two to three weeks in anticipation of his return. He was prescribed an oral morphine solution every four hours. Dr Jane Barton, GP – the only professional ever to have faced disciplinary action in relation to the events at Gosport – had noted, “Transfer to Dryad Ward. Make comfortable. Give adequate analgesia. I am happy for nursing staff to confirm death.”  Mr Cunningham died on 26 September 1988.

Robert Wilson sustained a broken shoulder and was treated at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. He had been sitting up in his bed, chatting to his family. On 14 October 1998 he was transferred to Gosport by minibus for the purposes of recovery. When he arrived he was given oral morphine via a syringe driver. His medication was switched to ‘PRN’ (to be administered as and when needed). Mr Wilson died on 18 October 1998, aged 74 years.

New inquests

Inquests took place in 2009 and 2013. In seeking the quashing of the original inquisitions and an order for new inquests, the claimants pointed to procedural irregularities in the way those inquests had been conducted in addition to the new evidence contained in the Independent Panel’s report.  They also cited the judgment of the Supreme Court in Maughan that conclusions as to unlawful killing are to be reached on the balance of probabilities, as opposed to requiring proof to the criminal standard.

Peter and Jim prepared applications to the Attorney General, inviting her to apply to the High Court for an order under s.13 of the Coroners Act 1998 that the original inquisitions be quashed and new investigations ordered.  As a result, the Solicitor General authorised the claimants to apply to the High Court directly.

The Senior Coroner for Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton will now open fresh inquests. The High Court’s order represents a significant milestone in what has been an arduous campaign by the families of those who died at Gosport.

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