Paramedic jailed for lying about patient's death

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A paramedic was jailed for 12 months today after being found guilty of telling a series of lies when he failed to resuscitate a 30-stone man.

Jurors heard that Karl Harris, 45, told his less experienced colleague there was "no point" in attempting to resuscitate Barry Baker after the pair were sent to his home in Brighton, East Sussex, in the early hours of the morning.

The 59-year-old patient, who lived alone, phoned 999 after experiencing breathing difficulties at 4.14am on November 29 2008 and died after suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest.

Jurors at Lewes Crown Court took just over four hours to find Harris guilty of a charge of perverting the course of justice today.

Sentencing him immediately, Judge Guy Anthony said he had demonstrated a "gross breach of trust".

The father of two was suspended from his role at South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SECAmb) following Mr Baker's death.

During the four-day trial, jurors heard a recording of the emergency call, in which Mr Baker's laboured, heavy breathing could be heard, before Harris and trainee technician Ben Stokes entered the house and spoke to him six minutes later.

Minutes later a loud thump was audible, which, the jury was told, was the sound of Mr Baker falling to the ground.

Harris's comments to his colleague could not be heard, but Richard Barton, prosecuting, said he told him: "He's dead. There's no point (in resuscitating him). I've seen this before.

"It's not a viable resuscitation. Don't bother."

Jurors also then heard the call Harris made to police to ask them to attend the scene, in which he said Mr Baker was already collapsed when they arrived.

"There's not a lot we can do really," he was heard to say.

Describing the house as a "right old state", he told police that Mr Baker's body was wedged in an alcove amid piles of clutter and could not be moved by him and Mr Stokes, 35, alone.

Jurors heard that Harris then went on to fill in a series of forms in which he claimed that Mr Baker had already collapsed.

Harris, as the more senior worker of the pair, made all the decisions and told Mr Stokes what to do during the call-out. The men had never worked together before.

No charges were brought against Mr Stokes but SECAmb placed him on restricted practice following the incident.

Giving evidence, he said he felt "sick" when Harris told him not to bother trying to resuscitate Mr Baker, and that they would just say the patient was already dead when they arrived.

The court heard that guidelines applying to ambulance clinicians state that "vigorous resuscitation attempts must be undertaken whenever there is a chance of survival, however remote".

If a patient collapses, these attempts should last for a period of around 20 minutes before it is reasonable to stop and pronounce the patient dead.

During his defence, Harris told jurors it would have been "physically impossible" to resuscitate Mr Baker due to his size and all the clutter that surrounded him where he lay.

The former soldier, who served in Northern Ireland with the Parachute Regiment, said he "honestly believed he was dead".

He added that when he told police Mr Baker had already collapsed when they arrived at the house, he did not make it clear that Mr Stokes entered the house before him and so may have witnessed the fall without him.

Asked to describe the scene around him, he said the house was in a bad state of disrepair, with a smell that made "you choke as you walked through the door".

But when questioned, Harris, who qualified as a paramedic in 2001 after leaving the Army due to problems with his knee, said the state of a patient's house or surroundings would never make a difference to how he did his job.

Jurors heard that Mr Baker had lived alone in Braybon Avenue since the death of his parents in the mid-1970s. He lived a "reclusive" lifestyle, rarely inviting friends to the house and over the years it had fallen into a state of disrepair.

He had worked in the city's JobCentre for 42 years, but had a double hip replacement in 2007 and resorted to using crutches to get around.

His weight had gone up from around 20 stone in September 2007 to 30 stone by the time of his death, which was caused by his inactivity and thrombosis of the legs.

The court heard that medical evidence suggested Mr Baker had little chance of survival and the Crown did not allege that Harris was actually responsible for his death.

Wearing a navy blue suit, Harris did not show any emotion as the verdict or sentencing was passed.

During mitigation, his lawyer Gillian Jones said he had no previous convictions and no complaints had ever been made about his professional conduct before.

She said Harris was aware that lying was a "silly and stupid thing to have done".

But passing sentence, Judge Anthony said he made "a clear and deliberate decision to lie" about Mr Baker's death.

Addressing Harris, of Tophill Close, Portslade, he said: "Quite why will perhaps only be known for certain by you.

"Perhaps you felt there was more you could have done and you simply did not want to have the hassle of having to fill in large numbers of forms and explain why you did not or could not do more than you did."

The judge added that although Mr Baker would not have survived anyway, "you of course could not have known that at the time when you decided to tell lies about the state of Mr Baker when you arrived at his house".

"Actions of this sort strike at the root of justice and the trust people have in the ambulance service," he said.

Following the verdict, SECAmb senior operations manager for the Brighton area James Pavey said: "South East Coast Ambulance Service would like to offer our sincere condolences to Mr Baker's family at what must be a very difficult time.

"Our highest priority is to provide a safe, responsive and high quality service to our patients.

"The standard of care that has been reported during this trial is not reflective of the dedication and commitment of our staff who come to work each day to care for the patients that need our help."

He said the trust immediately launched an investigation after a member of staff raised concerns about the incident, which led to them bringing it to the attention of Sussex Police.

"We have fully cooperated with the criminal investigation that then commenced," he added.

"We are not in a position to comment on the outcome of the trial as our internal investigation into this matter will now be resumed.

"Until this process is completed, Mr Harris will remain suspended from duty."

Detective Chief Inspector Adam Hibbert of Sussex Police's major crime branch, which investigated the incident, said it was "a tragic and unusual case".

He added: "Sussex Police and the Crown Prosecution Service worked closely with South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) to ensure the full facts were put to the jury.

"We note that, in sentencing, the judge referred to the clear and compelling nature of the evidence which was presented. HM Coroner for Brighton and Hove will now hold an inquest in due course."