Daphne Banks, who little more than a week ago was lying in a hospital mortuary, sat silently yesterday and listened as her solicitor described how her suicide attempt had so nearly succeeded. Smartly dressed in a blue cardigan and checked skirt but painfully thin, Mrs Banks smiled for the cameras as Anthony Northey said the doctor who declared her dead had made "an error of judgement".
Mrs Banks, 61, was found unconscious in bed after taking a drugs overdose on New Year's Eve.
She was discovered by her husband, Claude, at their home in Stonely, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and subsequently pronounced dead by David Roberts, the family's GP.
Three hours later, Ken Davison, an undertaker who knew the Banks family, saw a vein twitch and heard her snore in the mortuary at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Huntingdon, just as he was preparing to put her in a refrigerated body tray.
Yesterday, accompanied by Mr and Mrs Banks, Mr Northey outlined the circumstances that led to her apparent death as people elsewhere celebrated the arrival of the new year.
"Daphne unfortunately suffers from epilepsy. As a result . . . she was not able to drive. Because of her increasing years she was no longer able to walk into Kimbolton, some distance from her home. As a result, she felt very lonely and isolated and started to suffer from depression. This sense of depression gradually built up and on New Year's Eve . . . She could not face going on. She took a large quantity of her epilepsy tablets and also some sleeping tablets which she kept in her dressing table. After taking the tablets she climbed into bed and just drifted off to sleep,"Mr Northey said.
"Her next recollection, a very vague recollection, was of seeing her daughter leaning over her for a few brief seconds. This would have been at about 8am on 2 January. She promptly went back to sleep but then drifted in and out of consciousness for the next couple of days. She does not have any real recollection at all of the days up to Friday 5 January."
He said that last Friday doctors felt Mrs Banks had made such good progress they could tell her what had happened. But it did not sink in: the enormity of her brush with death was too much for her to comprehend.
Mr Banks, 69, a farmer and acquaintance of John Major, the local MP, wiped his eyes and looked stunned as the solicitor described the desperation felt by the woman he has been married to for 40 years. Dr Roberts, who is in his late thirties and has practised from a surgery in the nearby village of Great Staughton for about a year, will not face any legal or disciplinary action. Mr Northey said Mr and Mrs Banks had decided not to make any formal complaint to the family's health services authority, the General Medical Council or the health services ombudsman. "They have also decided that they do not intend to institute legal proceedings. Obviously the doctor in question made an error of judgement but luckily the error of judgement has not had fatal consequences.
"The family are just extremely grateful and relieved that Daphne is alive and making very good progress.
"Clearly the family are taking a magnanimous line in not wishing to pursue what was obviously an error of judgement or looking for any compensation or retribution."
Diana Jakubowska, head of communications for the Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Commission, said: "The commission has examined the information available . . . and has decided that on the basis of that information it would not be appropriate to take any further action at this time.
"The doctor concerned does not present a danger to his patients or the public. Our confidence in his continued future performance has not been diminished by our inquiries."
Dr Roberts was not at home or at his surgery yesterday. A spokeswoman for the practice said: "He will not be making any comment at all."Reuse content