The David Fuller Inquiry – Is enough being done for families?

7 Min Read

Letters on a table

 

*Updated* David Fuller has today been sentenced two life sentences for the murders of Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce and a further 12 years for the crimes he committed against the 78 identified victims in hospital morgues.  The court heard harrowing evidence from a number of family members of Mr Fuller’s victims about how they have been affected by his despicable crimes. 

Following the sentencing of David Fuller, Miles Scott, the Chief Executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust issued a statement in which he has said:

“As requested by the Secretary of State, we will work with the families and NHS Resolution to agree a compensation scheme without the pain and delay that may be caused by individual claim action.”

This is a very promising statement from Mr Scott and I hope that the Trust and NHS Resolution will meet this commitment.  However, to date,  I have had no confirmation from the Trust, NHS Resolution or their solicitors agreeing to or proposing any compensation scheme.  I remain committed to working with the Trust to produce a fair scheme that puts the families at the centre and makes sure that those I represent are fairly and properly treated.  

If you or a loved one have been affected by David Fuller’s actions and want to find out more about your legal rights feel free to contact me directly, and in absolute confidence, atgary.walker@enablelaw.com

*Original Article*

More than a month following the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s announcement of a public inquiry, the families of David Fuller’s victims have yet to be contacted by the inquiry regarding the terms of reference.

On 8 November 2021, Sajid Javid announced there would be an independent inquiry looking into the circumstances surrounding the offences committed by David Fuller over a period of twelve years in two Kent Hospital mortuaries.  Mr Javid appointed Sir Jonathan Michael (who had previously headed up the hospital’s own internal investigation) to chair the inquiry and its interim report is due to be published in the early new year.

In his address to the House of Commons on the same day, Mr Javid stated the terms of reference would be published in due course and that he had asked Sir Jonathan to discuss with families and others to input into this process. He advised the House that he had already started discussions with Sir Jonathan regarding the terms of reference and that he was sure that Sir Jonathan would want to have discussions with families and their representatives.

The David Fuller Inquiry has not yet contacted families

I represent a family member and, to date, neither I nor my client have had any contact from the inquiry – nor has my client had any opportunity to consider or comment upon the terms of reference.

My client feels very strongly that he should understand and be able to comment on what issues the inquiry will look at. Also, he wants to know the status of the inquiry and whether, for example, it will be able to compel witnesses to give evidence, and whether he and those families affected will be entitled to funding for legal representation at the inquiry.

What is a Public Inquiry?

Public inquiries are a major investigation, usually convened by a government minister. There is no formal threshold that must be met for an inquiry to take place and the only justification required is the existence of “public concern” about a particular event or set of events.

What is the purpose of an inquiry?

An inquiry has a number of purposes.  Generally, it is accepted that it is to prevent the kind of event it is investigating from ever happening again, but an inquiry can also ask what happened and why it went wrong, and decide if anyone was to blame.

Why are the Terms of Reference so important to the David Fuller Inquiry?

Terms of Reference are the foundation of the public inquiry and will set out the purpose of the David Fuller inquiry. They will set out the specific questions the inquiry should address, the types of information that will need to be collected and how this will be done, offer a sense of the timescale and how the outcome will be reported.

Whilst the families of Mr Fuller’s victims are unaware of the likely Terms of Reference I would expect they will set out the range of the investigation to include review of the regulation of mortuaries and the role of the Human Tissue Authority, security in mortuaries and hospitals and the Disclosure and Barring Service processes and systems. The terms will likely identify some key organisations and individuals who may be asked to contribute. This could potentially include the Police, members of staff at the hospitals, family members, NHS-England, Crown Prosecution Service, Human Tissue Authority and the Care Quality Commissioner.

The Terms of Reference are an important aspect of any inquiry which is why my client believes it is vital that those affected by Mr Fuller’s crimes be involved at the earliest possible opportunity.

Is the David Fuller Inquiry statutory?

The Inquiries Act 2005 gives a statutory framework for any public inquiry.

This is important because if a statutory inquiry is called under the Inquiries Act 2005 then the inquiry will have more legal powers available to them. This would mean that they can compel witnesses to give evidence or require organisations to provide documents and information. Also, the Inquiries Act 2005 gives the Chair the power for a person to have legal representation. In this inquiry, this would include whether the families would be able to have legal representation and support to be properly involved in the inquiry process.

It is not known whether this inquiry will be a formal statutory inquiry.

Do the families of David Fuller’s victims need legal representation?

For most people, being formally involved in a public inquiry will be a daunting experience and for those affected by Mr Fuller’s crimes it will no doubt be extremely upsetting and distressing. My client has advised me that they will not be able to properly contribute to the inquiry without support.

Unfortunately, the NHS’s lawyers have said that they do not consider legal funding is necessary for the families to contribute in a meaningful way to the David Fuller inquiry and if they do choose to instruct solicitors, that is a matter for them. It is very likely that the other organisations involved in the inquiry, including the NHS, will have legal representation.

My client believes it is vital that those most affected by Mr Fuller’s crimes are able to contribute to, and be involved with, the inquiry and this means having access to legal representation.

Compensation for the families of Mr Fuller’s victims

. No amount of compensation can undo what has happened, but my client wants recognition for the anguish and distress he experienced after finding out about Mr Fuller’s crimes on their loved one.

The matter of compensation was discussed in the House of Lords and Lord Faulks said that “…rather than embark on long, complex and uncertain litigation, it would be wise to set up a scheme” so that families may receive some compensation.

I am in preliminary discussions with NHS’s lawyers on my client’s behalf and hope to see some progress in the coming weeks.