Court rejects Allitt families' demand for public inquiry: Parents of nurse's victims promise to continue campaign despite setback

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The Independent Online
THE PARENTS of nurse Beverly Allitt's victims are to continue their fight for a public inquiry despite yesterday's High Court ruling that there was no legal basis for their campaign.

Mr Justice Macpherson refused the parents leave to challenge Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, over her decision that the inquiry should take place behind closed doors.

The families' argument that Mrs Bottomley had acted perversely was not 'sustainable', the judge said, adding that it would be wrong to raise their hopes by granting permission for a full hearing.

However, Ann Alexander, solicitor for nine of the families, said they would seek legal aid to renew their application to the Court of Appeal. 'Our concern remains that she (Mrs Bottomley) did not have all the facts before her,' Ms Alexander said.

Mrs Bottomley announced the inquiry, which will be led by the former health ombudsman, Sir Cecil Clothier QC, as Allitt's trial ended last week. Allitt was convicted of murdering four babies and attacking nine others on Ward 4 of Grantham and Kesteven District Hospital in the spring of 1991.

Yesterday, the families' counsel, Augustus Ullstein QC, said there was 'great concern' over the inquiry, which could not force witnesses to attend or order the production of key documents. Neither would Sir Cecil permit cross-examination of those giving evidence, the court was told.

Sir Cecil's statement that witnesses were more likely to tell the truth in private was 'wholly contrary to the system of criminal and civil justice in this country', Mr Ullstein said.

But Mr Justice Macpherson's ruling appeared to leave the families with little hope of seeing their arguments prevail.

'To have their hopes dashed later is worse than having them dashed at the start,' the judge said.

'I understand the emotions that these cases have engendered, but I hope they will now die down and that the inquiry which has been ordered can proceed.'

Although Mrs Bottomley's decision had been criticised, it would be 'most unfair' to say that she had acted perversely, Mr Justice Macpherson said. He said the issue should be debated in public and, possibly in Parliament, but not in court. 'I do not believe that this case is arguable in a court of law.'

However, with the nurses' union Cohse yesterday joining the campaign for a public inquiry, the parents have not given up hope of forcing a last minute U-turn by the Government.

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