In 1990, a ten year old boy called Robert Powell [Robbie] lost his life in hospital. “Within months, the father (Will Powell) began to suspect that somebody was tampering with his son’s medical records. He filed more complaints, and spent 15 years fighting for the truth [currently 24 years]. Now, finally, he has it – and he was right”.
There had been a multitude of errors which led to the failure to treat the suspected Addison’s disease and to further investigate it. The ACTH test that was ordered, which would have confirmed the diagnosis, was not given, and the Powells were not informed of the suspicion of this life threatening, but treatable disease, or the need for the ACTH test until after Robbie had already died.
Since then, Will has campaigned alone to be informed of the truth regarding his son. When a parent loses someone in these circumstances they genuinely do not seek compensation but an understanding what has gone so tragically wrong. Will is a prime example of somebody who sought to gain answers and improvements in the system. This is evidenced by the number of people he has assisted since then. He seeks no money or other reward. In fact, the Powell’s refused compensation estimated in excess of £300,000 in 1996 in order to expose the medical professions’ secret that they did not have a legal duty, in civil law, to tell the truth about the negligent circumstances of a patient’s death or refrain from post-death falsifying medical records. As a consequence of the Powells’ efforts a contractual Duty of Candour was introduced in England on the 1st October 2014.
Alone without support apart from his family and friends, he has sent thousands of letters/emails. All in authority either ignored the correspondence or turned a blind eye. “During those 15 years, he turned for help to the state – to the coroner and the local health authority, then to the Welsh Office and the parliamentary ombudsman, to the local police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and finally to an outside police force, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission” (Davies 2006).
This is one of the most frustrating aspects for anyone whoever they are – that people do not bother to even reply. Yes, many may well argue that they have not received the email. Yet, this further fuels an ever increasing cycle of anger and despair.
In all countries, historically, there must have been cases of sudden death, harm, or abuse of patients that were never investigated. Reasons for this failure to investigate may be so revealing and, had they been investigated, may have saved future lives. Were patients and families more accepting, being so grateful to receive any care or treatment whatsoever? Many are so grateful, even after a serious error, that they survived, hence they do not complain. This cannot be the case for Will Powell whose son died as a result of a catalogue of negligent acts and omissions.
Wading through forms and processes is daunting. Procedures are often delayed – which may in some cases mean that it is too late to investigate the case. Yet Will Powell soldiers on with the knowledge that the evidence of negligence and systemic cover up is well documented and still available.
As a result of his perseverance, the Health Authority admitted negligence in 1996 contemptuously claiming “no individual doctor was to blame” and the European Court of Human Rights “ was forced to accept the following:
“Whilst it is arguable that doctors had a duty not to falsify medical records under the common law (Sir Donaldson MR’s “duty of candour”), before Powell v Boladz there was no binding decision of the courts as to the existence of such a duty. As the law stands now, however, doctors have no duty to give parents of a child who died as a result of their negligence a truthful account of the circumstances of the death, nor even to refrain from deliberately falsifying records.”
You can access the full ECtHR’s judgment at:
Detective Chief Inspector Bob Poole, from West Midlands Police, who was completely independent of Dyfed Powys Police, overturned the police inquiries that were undertaken between 1994 and 2000, which erroneously indicated “no wrong-doing had been done”. DCI Poole took over 140 formal statements and suggested 35 criminal charges including manslaughter. It should be noted that Dyfed Powys Police took no formal statements and who incidentally employed the GPs under investigation as Police Doctors. Dyfed Powys Police had also refused to investigate lines of inquiry articulated by Will Powell and were found institutionally incompetent by Avon & Somerset Constabulary in March 2003. Were the acts and omissions of Dyfed Powys Police incompetence or deliberate conspiracy?
The GMC has taken no action against the doctors following a complaint Will Powell made in June 2003. Dyfed Powys Police and the Crown Prosecution Service met the GMC in March 2003 regarding Robbie’s case but failed to formally refer Robbie’s case to them as would have been appropriate in the circumstances. It was subsequently claimed by Dyfed Powys Police that the GMC’s solicitor influenced them and the CPS not to make the referral. However, the GMC has denied this.
The Independent Police Commission has taken no action regarding the alleged misconduct and corruption of Dyfed Powys Police.
A so called independent inquiry was undertaken by Barrister Nicholas David Jones in 2011-2012 at the request of the First Minister. Mr Nicholas Jones had been the First Minister’s junior counsel when he was the former Counsel General for the Welsh Government. Although Mr Jones interviewed and interrogated Will Powell on 5 separate occasions the GPs responsible for Robbie’s death and the falsification of the child’s medical records were not even interviewed. A catalogue of neglect and dishonesty uncovered by DCI Poole, 10 years earlier, was partly recorded in the report, but was redacted by the First Minister. You can access the unredacted report [redactions now in yellow] at:
A public analysis of this case could offer so much to staff, healthcare professionals, patients, and their relatives. Will continues to support others who have been in similar situations, and he is an example of what can be achieved notwithstanding the effort that is needed and frustration that results.
Will Powell continues to fight for a public inquiry.
Davies N (2006) Guardian – Fatal Flaws – 4th January
Wales This Week – 14th January 2013 – Robbie Powell Death: Redactions uncovered by Will Powell.