Parents cannot claim legal aid for Allitt inquiry: Families of nurse's victims say Clothier is 'ill-informed and lacking any strategy' as he refuses to back public investigation

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The Independent Online
PARENTS of nurse Beverly Allitt's 13 victims will be denied effective legal representation at the private inquiry ordered by the Government. The inquiry will examine the 26 attacks, including four murders, she committed on the children's ward of Grantham and Kesteven hospital.

A delegation of parents yesterday criticised Sir Cecil Clothier QC, the inquiry chairman, as 'ill-informed and lacking any strategy' after he refused to support their demands for a full public inquiry with powers to call witnesses and seize documents.

Lawyers for the parents will today seek a judicial review of the decision by Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, to conduct the Allitt inquiry behind closed doors. She has vested too few powers in the inquiry for it to gather sufficient information, the parents will argue.

Sir Cecil told the parents he would be prepared if necessary to seek wider powers from Mrs Bottomley, but only if the course of the inquiry became stymied.

Witnesses would not be open to cross-examination and, although lawyers would be able to represent clients at the inquiry, public funds would not be available. Nurses will be represented through their trade union, Cohse, and doctors will have legal advice through the Medical Defence Union.

The parents are not eligible for legal aid at the inquiry; they would have been had Mrs Bottomley accepted medical advice, as well as the parents' arguments for full disclosure, and established a public inquiry.

She originally decided that Professor David Shaw, a retired neurologist, should chair the inquiry involving Trent regional health authority. Then, with the trial still in progress, she chose Sir Cecil, a 73-year-old barrister. Sir Cecil told parents yesterday he had no idea Professor Shaw was originally chosen as chairman. Professor Shaw was seated next to Sir Cecil at the meeting.

An inquiry would be 'more likely to get to the bottom' of the Allitt affair without the 'pressures' of the witness box, Sir Cecil told the parents. The approach was especially effective when dealing at management level.

Witnesses could be subjected to 'frightful stress' in public, Sir Cecil said. He doubted whether the taking of the oath had any bearing on the truth, and everybody appearing before the inquiry would have the opportunity to exonerate themselves.

Mrs Bottomley said: 'If I believed that a public inquiry would get closer to the truth than a rigorous and effective investigation led by Sir Cecil then, of course, I would have had no hesitation in ordering such an inquiry.'

Chris Taylor, whose son Liam was murdered by Allitt, told Sir Cecil that only the regional health authority was reluctant to give evidence in public. Nurses, doctors and parents - many of whom had been through the 'frightful stress' of giving evidence at a 14-week murder trial - were anxious to give evidence in public.

David Crampton, whose son Allitt attempted to murder, said: 'Sir Cecil had very little in-depth knowledge of what he is supposed to be investigating.

'His answers were unsatisfactory and his position entrenched. There is no strategy for ensuring he gets all the facts.'

(Photograph omitted)