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Hillsborough victim died 'accidentally': Coroner says withdrawal of treatment not to blame

TONY BLAND, the young football fan who became the 96th victim of the Hillsborough football disaster, died accidentally, and not because medical treatment was withdrawn from him four years after the tragedy, an inquest concluded.

At a resumed inquest into his death in Bradford yesterday, the West Yorkshire coroner, James Turnbull, returned a verdict of accidental death due to traumatic asphyxia on Mr Bland, 22, consistent with his being crushed at the Hillsborough disaster.

Mr Bland had remained in a persistent vegetative state at the Airedale hospital in Keighley, virtually from the time of the disaster on 15 April 1989, until his death in March this year. He never recovered from the injury he suffered at the Sheffield ground, although he was able to breath unaided.

The Airedale hospital trust, with the full backing and blessing of Tony Bland's parents, Allan, 58 and Barbara, 55, applied to the High Court for a ruling that it would not be unlawful for medical treatment to be withdrawn from him. After a lengthy legal process through the High Court and the Court of Appeal, five Law Lords ruled in February this year that doctors were within their legal rights to withdraw medical treatment. This was done and Mr Bland died shortly afterwards, on 3 March.

Because of the unusual circumstances of Mr Bland's injury and his eventual death, the case caused considerable controversy, not least from pro-life groups.

Yesterday, Father James Morrow, a pro-life campaigner from Braemar, Scotland, who attempted to bring a private prosecution for murder after Mr Bland's death, was refused permission to question witnesses at the inquest by Mr Turnbull.

The coroner did hear evidence from the police officer who gave Tony Bland mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, two of his friends who went to the ground with him and survived, and detailed medical evidence from the consultant, Dr Jim Howe, who cared for him until his death. Dr Howe said yesterday that when Tony Bland was transferred from Sheffield to the Airedale hospital he was 'deeply unconscious'. He said it was clear then that he was in a persistent vegetative state.

Dr Howe was asked whether there was a chance of a patient making a recovery from PVS, to which he replied: 'There is . . . but usually in the first few months. To my knowledge there are no cases of good recovery after a year.' Dr Howe said he had discussed the possibility of withdrawing treatment, essentially feeding tubes and drugs, with the Bland family and the South Yorkshire coroner. He had been advised that he might be liable to prosecution and that the practice had not been legally tested. The Airedale hospital trust then took the matter to the High Court.

Mr Bland's father, Allan, said he had been at home watching the match on television and had, he thought, spotted his son caught up in the disaster. He agreed that the application to the High Court to withdraw treatment for his son had been done with his 'full knowledge and acquiescence'.