Robbie Powell: how a grieving father has nowhere left to turn over the death of his 10-year-old son [PART ONE]

Robbie Powell One
Steve Topple

The death of a 10-year-old boy more than 26 years ago is once again being investigated, amid claims of a cover-up by medical professionals. These claims by the boy’s father also imply the NHS, police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Welsh Office, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the General Medical Council (GMC) and other public bodies may have been involved.

Robbie Powell from Ystradgynlais, Powys died a preventable death in 1990. Dyfed Powys police and the CPS conducted the original investigations between 1994 and 2000. They found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. But following an independent police investigation between 2000 and 2002, the CPS confirmed numerous individuals could be charged. But they never were. So now, his grieving father is once again fighting for justice. He feels he has nowhere left to turn.

Note: All evidence cited in this article has been seen by The Canary. You can read Part 2 of this article here. 

A treatable illness

Robbie was suffering from Addison’s disease, a serious but treatable condition. But numerous chances to diagnose and then save his life were missed. After two weeks of illness, he took his last conscious breath at Morriston Hospital, Swansea. Just thirty minutes after his parents were refused an ambulance to take him there. They declared Robert dead later that night. 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, medics suspected Robbie had Addison’s disease when they first took him to hospital by ambulance on 5 December 1989. While they ordered the test to confirm this they did not carry it out. And while the hospital never informed his parents of any of this, they did tell the Ystradgynlais Health Centre, a practice of seven GPs where Robbie was a patient. They instructed the GPs to refer Robbie immediately back to hospital if he became unwell again.

When Robbie did fall ill again, five different GPs saw him on seven different occasions. They all missed the boys life-threatening illness, right up to his death. Only one GP read the crucial medical records, told the Powells he would refer Robbie to hospital immediately, then failed to do so. This was six days before Robbie died. Altogether, nine opportunities to save Robbie’s life were missed; seven by the GPs and two by the hospital.

An independent criminal investigation between 2000 and 2002 found that four of the doctors were grossly negligent. Two of them plus one secretary forged medical records. They then 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. However, as with the initial Hillsborough inquests, the Coroner refused to hear any evidence of a cover-up after Robbie’s death, so the jury never heard about the forged records.

And at the heart of this story are the countless government institutions that have left Robbie’s father, Will Powell, with no way of challenging the events that led to his son’s death.

Failings by the police

As The Canary has previously documented, the involvement of the police has been severely tarnished from the start.

In March 1994, Mr Powell went to Dyfed Powys police with a 20-page report, copious supporting documents and signed affidavits. He formally requested that they fully investigate Robbie’s death and the subsequent falsification of medical records. After two investigations, and the CPS claiming the police had left “no stone unturned”, they found no crimes had been committed. But after Mr Powell’s continuous lobbying and complaints against the then Deputy Chief Constable and Chief Constable, Dyfed Powys police asked a West Midlands police officer to conduct an independent investigation.

The late Detective Chief Inspector Bob Poole led the investigation called “Operation Radiance”, which uncovered:

  • Gross negligence.
  • Forgery.
  • Perverting the course of justice.
  • Possible conspiracy issues with the GPs.
  • That 35 criminal charges could be considered in the case, including involuntary manslaughter and corporate manslaughter.

Operation Radiance also found countless failings in Dyfed Powys police investigations:

  • They failed to take crucial sworn witness statements from the Powells and other relevant witnesses required under section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act. This prevented the ability to bring prosecution.
  • They failed to collect any evidence from experts regarding the GPs.
  • They failed to do a forensic investigation into Robbie’s medical records.
  • They failed to speak to any staff at Morriston Hospital.

“Institutionally incompetent”

A disciplinary investigation by Avon and Somerset police into Dyfed Powys force in 2003 found them “institutionally incompetent” on the investigations into Robbie’s death. It said they “failed to investigate professionally, efficiently and effectively the circumstances surrounding and subsequent to the death of Robert Powell”.

Avon and Somerset formally served discipline notices on the Head of CID DCS Jeff Thomas and Superintendent John Daniels. But they still allowed them to retire and thus excluded them from any investigation of misconduct. To date, neither of these former officers have been asked, by anyone, why they ignored irrefutable evidence of crimes that were allegedly committed by doctors associated with their police force.

On 7 November 2000, Mr Powell asked Deputy Chief Constable Peter Clough if any of the two officers, served with disciplinary notices, had given notice of retirement. Clough refused to provide this information after taking legal advice. Mr Powell expressed his disappointment and said:

If any of the officers retire, before my complaint is fully investigated, then it may be perceived that they have done so to avoid independent scrutiny of their involvement in the inadequate police investigations into my son’s grossly negligent death.

Mr Powell formally requested that his letter be copied to both officers but again Clough refused. It came to light during the IPCC 2007 investigation of Mr Powell’s complaints against the then Chief Constable, the late Terence Grange, that Clough had actually signed the ‘Notice of Termination of Service’  for DCS Thomas to retire. And he had done so two months before Mr Powell had asked for confirmation. Grange subsequently gave signed permission for Superintendent Daniels to retire. Mr Powell now believes that the disciplinary investigation was set up to fail from the outset.

The Police and Crime Commissioner 

Mr Powell first contacted the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys, Christopher Salmon, in February 2013. Mr Powell made Salmon aware of what he refers to as the “scandalous and unlawful way in which Dyfed Powys Police and other… forces had failed Robbie”. After several meetings with Salmon, witnessed by Mr Powell’s close friend Sid Herbert, he asked him to write to then Home Secretary, Theresa May, about Robbie’s case. But it was from here that Mr Powell believes Salmon behaved in an “unlawful” and “outrageous” manner.

Salmon wrote to May on 7 February 2014. The letter was as follows:

Salmon Powell May

May then sent the following reply:

May Salmon Powell

Mr Powell says that Salmon “inappropriately” went outside the Home Secretary’s jurisdiction, by referencing the CPS and the GMC. He believes it gave May the opportunity to “fob him off” to the CPS. Salmon should have actually raised specific issues on the police’s gross failures in Robbie’s case and the allegations of Misconduct in Public Office. Mr Powell believes Salmon did this deliberately.

At this time, the CPS were already in communication with Mr Powell about a review into Robbie’s case. So all Salmon did was prompt a letter from the CPS, informing him of this. Mr Powell claims that Salmon also took information provided by Dyfed Powys police force completely at face value. He ignored the documentary proof Mr Powell gave him that the police were untruthful in their accounts of Robbie’s case.

The Family Liaison Officer

An example of this documentary proof was that former Inspector David Thomas claimed he hadn’t been the Powells’ Family Liaison Officer, like they thought. Thomas stopped supporting the Powells without explanation, shortly after the CPS decided not to prosecute the GPs despite available evidence. And Dyfed Powys police completely removed any support for the Powells with the knowledge of the imminent inquest.

Thomas and the two CPS Prosecutors, who decided not to prosecute the GPs, arranged a meeting with the GMC in March 2003. The purpose was to formally refer Robbie’s case to the GMC for investigation. But they did not refer it and the GMC subsequently refused to investigate the GPs’ gross negligence and dishonesty. Thomas then acted as the Coroner’s Officer at Robbie’s inquest while being involved in the homicide investigation. Oddly, the doctors did not object. Thomas witnessed the doctors giving evidence under oath that contradicted the evidence they gave while being interviewed under caution. But he said nothing. Mr Powell and his wife’s legal representatives were not provided with transcripts of the doctors’ evidence during police interviews so weren’t in a position to challenge the inconsistencies. Thomas is just one example of Mr Powell’s alleged untruthfulness, which he highlighted to Salmon.

In one email exchange, Salmon stated that:

As your case has been through the courts and they have not found a crime, there is nothing I can do.

Mr Powell pointed out to him that Robbie’s case had never been through the criminal courts, only civil proceedings. In 2007, Mr Powell brought a civil claim, costing £1,700, against Dyfed Powys police, which was eventually struck out. In it, the judge Terence J Lewis said Mr Powell had an “obsession” with the circumstances of his son’s death. There was also no mention in the judgement that the doctors had evaded prosecution despite sufficient evidence to prosecute them. Mr Powell says this general disregard for detail and carelessness made him feel that Salmon’s behaviour was, at best, “contemptible”.

And Salmon did not only deal with the CPS or the Home Secretary. He also contacted Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), one of the highest police bodies in England and Wales with regards to the case.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary

HMIC sent Salmon a letter on 29 July 2013 outlining the options available to the Powell family under its remit. While it stated that it could not conduct an investigation into Dyfed Powys police force regarding Mr Powell’s complaints, it could:

  • Look at professional standards including leadership, governance and accountability.
  • Review complaints management policy, processes and practice.
  • Conduct an examination of the handling of complaints.

It told Salmon that if he wished to proceed with a “commission” from them, HMIC would be happy to discuss this. Mr Powell claims that Salmon “reneged” on his promise that he would instruct HMIC to do so. And therefore no commission ever took place. But this is not the first time that HMIC were involved with Dyfed Powys police.

The IPCC conducted a review into Robbie’s case in 2007, regarding complaints Mr Powell had made against Dyfed Powys police. One section of the report mentions HMIC. An officer had told the IPCC that:

He adds that notwithstanding the possible issues concerning the investigation of [Robbie’s] case, he also already had ‘significant concerns in general about D/C/Supt A’s management style and conduct as head of department. Indeed, soon after joining Dyfed-Powys Police one of my key messages to Chief Constable White was that there were significant concerns about the running of CID’.

The report goes on to say that in 1998/99 inspection HMIC put to “D/C/Supt A the serious concerns expressed to him by officers about the ‘club’ status of CID”. Dyfed Powys police were often referred to as the Welsh Mafia – or “the Taffia” – for instance. It also said the Chief Constable at the time “played down” any concerns about the ‘mafia-style’ way in which CID, which had investigated Robbie’s death, was run.

But neither the IPCC or HMIC acted on any of this information. It is Mr Powell’s view that both organisations “permitted the misconduct of Dyfed Powys Police to continue which brings into question their independence and integrity”.

And as Part Two of this article will demonstrate, the seeming disregard for Mr Powell’s search for answers over his son’s death goes right up to the CPS.

The Canary approached Christopher Salmon, the CPS and HMIC for comment but none was received by the time of publication.

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

The Canary will continue working with the Powell family on the investigation into Robbie’s tragic death. You can read Part Two of this article here, and the full series of articles 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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