A woman who had been pronounced dead at her home by a doctor was found to be alive in a hospital morgue when a family friend working for the undertakers spotted that she was still breathing.
Daphne Banks, 61, a farmer's wife of Stonely, Cambridge-shire, was last night recovering in the same hospital at which she arrived as a "corpse" on New Year's Day and where she was about to be put in a refrigerator when the friend, already distressed at news of her "death,'' saw that her chest was moving.
Last night, her vicar, the Rev Ron Frost, said: "One fights shy of using the word 'miracle', but in my humble opinion, this is as dashed near to being miraculous as you can get. That's what her husband, Claude, is calling it and, for him, it's quite legitimate. One minute, he thought he had lost his wife. The next, she was back again."
Last night Mr Banks was said to be "devastated'', in tears and unable to talk about the matter. A spokesman for the family said he was unable to come to terms at the moment with what had happened. "The family are simply trying to put their lives back together at the moment," said the spokesman. "Mr Banks is in tears. He is absolutely devastated and distraught. At this stage it is far too early for him to think about making any complaints about anyone involved in this incident.
"All we can hope is that Mrs Banks now makes a full recovery. It has been a story with a happy ending."
A local GP had pronounced Mrs Banks dead at her farmhouse home at 1.30am last Sunday and had called police because he believed a post-mortem examination would be necessary. Neither the police nor the undertakers who took Mrs Banks to the Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon noticed that she was alive during the journey to the hospital in the undertakers' ambulance. She had been placed on a stretcher covered by a sheet.
William Goldby, area manager of funeral directors TL Cobbold, said Mrs Banks had been going through the normal reception procedure. "Whilst the mortuary attendant was going about her business, a member of my staff actually detected signs of life. He did not detect any sign of a pulse at that stage, but there was a rise and fall of the chest. This member of staff is a friend of Mrs Banks's family and he was already upset to hear of her death. They called the mortuary attendant, who checked and found a slight pulse, and resuscitation was begun. I have never heard of a case like this before.''
The Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Commission has launched an inquiry into the incident but Stephen Thornton, its chief executive, said that no disciplinary action was likely against the unnamed GP who pronounced death.
He is thought to be an experienced doctor operating from the nearby village of Great Staughton.
"We are investigating the matter and finding out the details of exactly what has happened," Mr Thornton said.
The person had been pronounced dead by a GP before arriving at the hospital.
"It was brought in by undertakers for normal processing. When signs of life were detected, our mortuary worker did the right thing and called our emergency crash team. They carried out resuscitation and took the patient first to the Accident and Emergency Department and then to the intensive care unit.
"The person has now been moved to a general ward from intensive care and is making satisfactory progress."
Ms Markey said that the "body" had been put on a metal stretcher by undertakers. Asked whether the next port of call for Mrs Banks would have been a refrigerator, she replied: "That would be a fair assumption."
Cambridgeshire police said they had been called to a "sudden death" at Mrs Banks's home at 1.39am. The doctor had pronounced the patient dead, but would not issue a death certificate, so officers had to take certain details to pass on to the coroner.
"If a doctor has pronounced a patient dead, police officers are not going to argue and try to find a pulse," a spokesman said.
The Banks's are well known in the area. Mr Banks is President of Huntingdonshire Cricket Association and Kimbolton Cricket Club. The couple have two grown-up daughters and a number of grandchildren.
Labour Shadow Health Secretary Harriet Harman last night called for an urgent inquiry: "This is an extraordinary incident and must have been a traumatic experience for Daphne Banks.
"I will, as a matter of urgency, be calling on Secretary of State for Health Stephen Dorrell to carry out an investigation into the circumstances surrounding this dreadful incident."
Margaret Markey, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said there were no plans for an inquiry because no breaches of procedure had taken place there. She said: "I can confirm that a body brought into the mortuary was found to have signs of life. It was brought in by undertakers for normal processing. When signs of life were detected, our mortuary worker did the right thing and called our emergency crash team. They carried out resuscitation and took the patient first to the accident and emergency department and then to the intensive care unit. The person has now been moved to a general ward and is making satisfactory progress."
Ms Markey said the "body" had been put on a metal stretcher by undertakers. Asked whether Mrs Banks's next port of call would have been a refrigerator, she replied: "That would be a fair assumption."
Cambridgeshire police said that they had been called to a "sudden death" at Mrs Banks's home at 1.39am. The doctor had pronounced the patient dead, but would not issue a death certificate, so officers had to take certain details to pass on to the coroner.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies