Robbie Powell: the failures of UK political and legal systems in the death of a 10-year-old boy [PART ONE]

Steve Topple

The death of a 10-year-old boy over 26 years ago is once again being investigated, amid claims of a cover-up by medical professionals, the NHS, the Welsh Office, police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the General Medical Council (GMC) and other public bodies. Robbie Powell from Ystradgynlais, Powys died a preventable death in 1990.

Originally, investigations by Dyfed Powys police and the CPS, between 1994 and 2000, claimed that there was no evidence of any criminal offences. But following an independent investigation between 2000 and 2002, and 35 suggested criminal charges, the CPS agreed that numerous individuals could be prosecuted. But they never were. So now, his grieving father is once again fighting for justice.

Note: All evidence cited in this article has been seen by The Canary.

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You can read Part Two of this article here.

An unnecessary death

Robbie was suffering from Addison’s disease, a serious but treatable condition. But numerous chances to diagnose him and then save his life were missed. After two weeks of illness, he died in Morriston Hospital, Swansea, just hours after his parents were refused an ambulance to take him there. Addison’s disease didn’t kill him; the severe dehydration that it causes resulted in a massive drop in Robbie’s blood pressure, causing two heart attacks. The second one was fatal.

As The Canary previously documented, when Robbie was admitted to hospital on 5 December 1989, he was suspected of having Addison’s disease, and the test to confirm this was ordered but not carried out. His parents weren’t told this, but Ystradgynlais Health Centre, a practice of seven GPs where Robbie was a patient, was. The GPs were instructed to refer Robbie back to hospital immediately if he became unwell again.

But the GPs who received this crucial information from Morriston Hospital did not share the same with their partners. Or flag up the suspicion and need for the test in the forms provided specifically for this purpose in the child’s GP records. When Robbie fell ill again, he was repeatedly seen by various GPs, right up until his death. Altogether, his GPs had seven opportunities – and the hospital two – to save Robbie’s life, and all of them were missed. Of the five GPs who saw Robbie in the last 15 days of his life, only one actually read the medical records.

Staggering negligence 

The independent criminal investigation between 2000 and 2002, found that four of the doctors were grossly negligent, which is the criterion for a charge of gross negligence manslaughter. Two of them and a secretary had committed forgery of medical records, and the same three had attempted to pervert the course of justice. But an inquest jury in 2004 returned a verdict of death by natural causes, aggravated by neglect. So far, no one has been prosecuted over Robbie’s death.

The post-death falsification of Robbie’s medical records was withheld from the jury because, as in the initial Hillsborough inquests, the coroner refused to hear any evidence after the time of death. On the first day of the inquest, the coroner even suggested the Powells could be culpable for their own son’s death. But this was immediately rejected by several barristers representing the doctors.

As The Canary has been documenting, at the heart of this story are multiple, repeated failings. Firstly by NHS complaints procedures, the Welsh Office, then the CPS; crucially, by the medical professionals who were responsible for Robbie’s care; by several police forces and the IPCC, and, over the course of more than two decades, by numerous politicians and legal institutions who have been involved in Robbie’s case.

The Welsh Office

Thirteen days after Robbie had died, Mr Powell made a formal complaint to the NHS about the treatment the young boy had received. But a Medical Services Committee Hearing in December 1990, into the conduct of the five GPs who had a duty of care to Robbie, found that only one GP was in breach of her terms of service. She was given the minimal reprimand.

Mr Powell claims that the hearing was a whitewash, that all the corroborated evidence of dishonesty was ignored, and the minutes of the meeting did not reflect what actually happened. The committee failed in its duty to ask the GPs any questions about their false and contradictory statements. When Mr Powell attempted to cross-examine the GPs he was prevented from doing so by the Chairman, who was also a magistrate.

Mr Powell appealed the decision with the Welsh Office, and he was granted a hearing in 1992. The appeal hearing convened on 17 March 1992. The Welsh Office who, at the time, owned all original medical records in Wales, formally introduced Robbie’s original GP and Morriston Hospital medical records as their evidence. Serious allegations were made by the Powells’ barrister that the medical records had been falsified by, amongst other things, the removal of a letter that referred specifically to Addison’s disease.

Missing files

The hearing was adjourned on 19 March, for six months, because the three days allocated by the Welsh Office were inadequate to hear all the evidence. The hearing reconvened on 7 September 1992 with an estimated time of a further five days.

At the reconvened hearing, it came to light that Robbie’s original GP medical records had gone missing from the Welsh Office during the adjournment but had mysteriously returned and placed on Mr Powell’s table before he entered the room in which the appeal was being heard. The records had been significantly altered by the addition of medical documents, relating to Robbie, that had not been disclosed when four separate sets had been previously provided to Mr Powell. Neither had the additional documents been part of the GP records during the March segment of the appeal hearing. Which was confirmed, under oath, by the healthcare professional that had previously provided copies of the medical records to Mr Powell.

Evidential collusion?

The Welsh Office officials denied having possession of the original GP medical records, during the adjournment, as did the GPs, from where the additional documents had allegedly originated. It was claimed by the Chairman that either Mr Powell or his legal representatives had had possession of the medical records, despite the fact they could not have added the additional documents.

The Chairman also concealed the fact that he had personally produced the original GP records on the first day of the hearing in March and refused to investigate where the medical records had been for six months. The Powells’ barrister requested an adjournment until the matter had been resolved but the Chairman refused. He also refused the request to call in the police to investigate. As a consequence, the Powells felt they had no other option but to withdraw from the hearing, which had cost them £34,000 in legal fees.

Mr Powell believes there is cogent evidence to prove collusion between the GPs and Welsh Office officials, including at least one secret meeting between the doctors and the appeal panel. He believes the fact that the appeal panel had at least one private discussion with the respondent GPs and their legal representatives brings into question the whole process and the integrity of the appeal itself.

John Redwood and William Hague

The Welsh Office had received the original GP medical records from the Powells’ Forensic Document Examiner, under-recorded delivery, on 11 March 1992, six days before the appeal hearing commenced. But John Redwood and William Hague, Secretaries of State for Wales, between 1992-97, denied for three years they had been received even though there was an official record in the Welsh Office’s post room that they had been. Furthermore, the letter that accompanied the original GP medical records, from the forensic document examiner, had gone missing.

It also came to light that the original receptionist’s call book entry, which Mr Powell had alleged had been falsified, had also gone missing from the Welsh Office. The police subsequently confirmed that the audio tapes of the appeal hearing had been stolen after the Welsh Office had given an undertaking to Mr Powell’s solicitor that they would be safely secured.

Collusion and conspiracy? 

Although Mr Powell had informed Welsh Office officials that the forensic expert had sent the original GP medical records, under recorded delivery, to the Welsh Office, in March 1992. No effort whatsoever was made by officials to contact the expert for clarification, which in itself appears suspicious.

When it was eventually accepted that the GP records had been received Hague set up an inquiry in 1995-96. But it failed to address any of the allegations of collusion and conspiracy and all but cleared the Welsh Office of any wrongdoing. The appointed barrister, who was also a magistrate and was associated with the NHS in Wales, interviewed Mr Powell, his legal team and the Reverend Thomas (the Powells’ witness to the existence of the Addison’s letter). But they did not interview the GPs to establish why medical documents that originated from them were added to Robbie’s GP medical records, at the same time the medical records had gone missing from the Welsh Office.

Mr Powell’s formal request to reconvene the appeal was refused.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman 

In February 1993 Mr Powell’s MP, Jonathan Evans, formally complained to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about the conduct of the Welsh Office and the alleged maladministration during the appeal process. But it turned out to be the same individual who was the Health Ombudsman, and who had refused to investigate Mr Powell’s previous NHS complaints. Mr Evans was advised to first complain to the Welsh Office. If he was dissatisfied the Parliamentary Ombudsman would then investigate. Mr Evans did so and Mr Redwood responded in July 1993 with a catalogue of untruths. He denied that Robbie’s original GP medical records had been received and that they had been introduced as part of the Welsh Office’s evidence.

Mr Evans therefore referred the matter back to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.  In November 1993 the Parliamentary Ombudsman then claimed that Evans’s serious complaints against the Welsh Office were outside his jurisdiction. But when Redwood was subsequently proven to have untruthfully answered a parliamentary question in 1995, regarding receipt of the GP medical records, Evans complained about this to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. And this time, a new Parliamentary Ombudsman agreed to investigate this and also the alleged maladministration at the 1992 Welsh Office appeal, which his predecessor had erroneously claimed was outside his jurisdiction.

Maladministration

In March 1999, seven years after the appeal, the Welsh Office was found guilty of maladministration. Mr Powell received a token £500 compensation. But the Parliamentary Ombudsman refused to investigate the missing GP medical records and also ignored the collusion between the GPs, Welsh Office officials and the appeal panel. Furthermore, as with the earlier Hague inquiry, the GPs were not even interviewed though it had been proven Robbie’s medical records were altered during the course of the 1992 appeal hearing with documents that had originated from the GPs.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman refused to order that the appeal be reconvened. Mr Powell’s formal request to the Welsh Office to have the appeal reopened, in the light of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report, was again rejected by the Secretary of State for Wales. Although Mr Powell made an NHS complaint about Robbie’s care, just 13 days after his death, the maladministration by the Welsh Office has denied him his legal right to a conclusion

As a consequence of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s refusal, in November 1993, not to investigate Evans’s complaint, a decision was made by Mr Powell to refer the falsification of Robbie’s medical records to the police. The Director of Public Prosecutions advised that he should make the complaint to Dyfed Powys Police. This resulted in two police investigations being undertaken between 1994 and 2000. Both of which were subsequently found by an outside police force as being institutionally incompetent.

But as Part Two of this article will show, the “institutional incompetence” extended well beyond just one police force. It went right to the heart of the UK and European legal systems, and to parliament itself.

All evidence cited in this article has been seen by The Canary.

The Canary will be working with the Powell family on a further investigation into Robbie’s tragic death. You can read Part Two of this article here, and all other articles in The Canary’s series here.

Get Involved

– Read more on Robbie’s tragic story.

– Write to your MP, asking them to intervene in the case.

– Support the family on Facebook.

Featured image via the Powell family

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