Family to fight return of struck-off nurse to register: The ward sister involved in an unsolved murder is back at work. Judy Jones reports

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The Independent Online
WHEN Bridget Brosnan was admitted to a psychiatric ward at Lister Hospital, Stevenage, her family thought she would be in safe hands.

A month later, Mrs Brosnan was killed on the ward and a murder hunt was launched. Her family are outraged that the nursing sister then running the ward, Feroza Leeming has been restored to the nursing register, only 16 months after being struck off.

'Mum had been admitted to the hospital suffering from depression,' said Mrs Brosnan's daughter Margaret Hill, who lives in Rayleigh, Essex. 'She was visited by a member of the family every day she was there. She seemed to be getting along all right, although there never seemed to be any sort of systematic care plan for her. In the early hours of January 11, my brother Tom got a phone call from the hospital to say our mother had suffered a cardiac arrest. When Tom went to the hospital, and went to see the body he found the shroud had been pulled right up around the face, which we thought a bit odd.'

After police began a murder investigation, Mrs Leeming and another nurse, Merlie Walker, changed their stories and said Mrs Brosnan had hanged herself with tights from the bedhead.

The truth behind the killing may never be known because inquests only consider causes of death, not who may have caused it.

Dr Michael Heath, a Home Office pathologist, told the inquest in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, on 15 May 1991 that he had found no marks on Mrs Brosnan's neck that suggested a hanging. What he found were bruises on the back and scalp; and scratch marks indicating the patient had attempted to fend off an attacker.

He concluded the suffocation of the 70-year-old widow had been caused by pressing her into bedding, face down.

Dr Patrick Toseland, a consultant biochemist at Guy's Hospital, London, specialising in toxicology, told the inquest there were toxic levels of drugs in the body, anti-depressants and tranquilisers. He believed Mrs Brosnan, a patient on a busy ward where nurses regularly worked double shifts, had been routinely overdosed over the last days of her life.

Kooi Seng Eastwood, the third nurse on duty on ward 14 the night Mrs Brosnan died, told the inquest that she was alerted to Mrs Brosnan's room, and asked to bring oxygen, by Ms Walker. But she found the elderly patient already dead on her bed. There was nothing in the room to indicate she had died hanging from tights and nothing was said by either of her colleagues to suggest that was what happened.

At St Albans Crown Court, Mrs Leeming and Ms Walker pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

In February 1992, Mrs Leeming was struck off the nursing register for an unspecified period for professional misconduct. The grounds centred on the conspiracy conviction; and the nurse's failure to disclose it in an application to the Bloomsbury and Islington health authority on 25 April 1991, for a full-time nursing post at the Whittington Hospital.

Managers there knew nothing of the conviction until they read an article headed 'The Death By Neglect of Bridget Brosnan' in the Health Services Journal two months later.

Recently, Mrs Leeming has been working as an agency nursing assistant at the South Western psychiatric hospital in south London, part of the West Lambeth Community Care NHS Trust. Ray Rowden, trust chief executive, gave evidence to last week's UKCC inquiry in support of her application to be re-registered.

He told The Independent yesterday: 'According to the reports I have received from those supervising and working with Mrs Leeming, her work has been exemplary. I have received a lot of very positive testimony from patients too. I do not believe that once an individual has made a professional misjudgement, they should be condemned forever more. I think the UKCC judgement was a fair one. I am satisfied that she has learned appropriate lessons. Feroza herself deeply regrets the distress the whole incident has caused to Mrs Brosnan's family.' The Independent has been unable to contact Mrs Leeming for comment.

Mrs Hill, her brothers and sisters are hoping to secure a judicial review of the UKCC decision to restore Mrs Leeming's name to the register. They believe it should be revoked. They have written to the Prime Minister, health ministers and Colin Ralph, the UKCC registrar, in protest. Mrs Hill said: 'There have been so many inconsistencies in the stories we have been told about our mother's death, and so many unanswered questions, that we find the UKCC decision completely incomprehensible.'

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, described the case as 'extremely worrying', and has supported the call from Mrs Brosnan's family for a review of procedures governing discipline, and self-regulation of professional bodies. (Photographs omitted)