Coroner to hold inquest into patient deaths

A coroner will hold an inquest into the deaths of three patients who a doctor was cleared of murdering, police confirmed today

Durham and Darlington coroner Andrew Tweddle had closed the book on the cases of Frank Moss, 59, Harry Gittins, 74, and Stanley Weldon, 74, all from County Durham.

All three men had been patients of Dr Howard Martin, 75, when he was a partner at the Jubilee Medical Group, which had surgeries in Newton Aycliffe, Shildon and Eldon, all in County Durham.

He was cleared of murdering them with overdoses of morphine after a trial at Teesside Crown Court in December 2005.

Mr Tweddle later decided not to hold an inquiry into their deaths, saying a thorough investigation had already taken place and he could not force Dr Martin to give evidence.

But in November, a High Court judge overruled his decision and ordered an inquest into the death of 59-year-old cancer patient Mr Moss following a legal challenge by his daughter, Allison.

The inquest into the deaths of all three, which is expected to last up to six weeks, will begin in February next year.

It will proceed on the basis that the former GP, who now lives in Penmaenmawr, Gwynedd, North Wales, did not murder his patients, said Mr Justice Underhill.

But he said other matters, including whether the relevant authorities took sufficient steps to investigate reports of inadequacies in Dr Martin's practice, should be considered.

Judge Underhill said the coroner would decide the scope of any inquests, but that a verdict of manslaughter or unlawful killing would probably not be appropriate.

A Durham Police spokesman said: "The Durham and Darlington Coroner Andrew Tweddle will hold an inquest into the deaths of three patients a doctor was accused of murdering.

"The inquests will be into the deaths of Frank Moss, Harry Gittins and Stanley Weldon. All three had been patients of Dr Howard Martin who was cleared of murdering them with overdoses of opiate drugs."

Mr Gittins' son, Paul, of Newton Aycliffe, told the Northern Echo last month: "It won't be easy going over it all again but it is a good thing.

"The trial and investigation raised lots of questions and educated us so we hope an inquest will help find answers."

Dr Martin remains suspended from practising in the meantime.