Wide spread organ retention by police of body parts

Child’s brain retained at Southampton General Hospital

Media enquiries by the BBC have exposed the fact that 89 families were not told that their child’s whole organs or significant body parts had been retained by the police.

One mother, Hannah Cheevers from Dorset only found out that her son Rhys’ brain had been retained at Southampton General Hospital 13 years after his tragic death.

Out of the blue, the police knocked on her door and told her that her son had been buried without his brain.

Last year, the Association of Police Officers released a report which said that 492 whole organs or ‘significant’ body parts were held by or on behalf of police at police property, hospital mortuaries and other establishments.

Melanie Land, clinical negligence specialist at Swain & Co Southampton said, “After burying your child, you might expect closure. But to find that you may not have been allowed to bury your child with all their organs is devastating. Why the secrecy and lack of respect?”

“Hannah’s son went through a post mortem which revealed he died due to a heart condition, so I could understand it if her son’s heart was retained, but why his brain?”

“Police are able to retain organs, tissue samples and body parts if a person has died in suspicious circumstances. However, Mrs Cheever’s son did not therefore it begs the question why was his brain retained in Southampton General Hospital?”

Dorset police sent two family liaison officers to Hannah’s door, but they could offer no explanation as to why her son’s brain was retained by Southampton General Hospital. It was left in storage.

Mel explains, “We want to help those families get the answers they need as to why their child’s organs were retained without their knowledge and where there may be no suspicious circumstances.”

Graeme Swain, managing partner of Swain & Co says, “I have always argued that the police and doctors should be open with the public about what they are doing. They should be accountable.”

“If they were accountable, I believe that mistakes would be reduced and that the public and patients, in particular, would be respected.”

There is pressure on doctors to agree to what is sometimes called ‘A Duty of Candour’; a duty to be honest and open about treatment issues and to admit mistakes.

The police are under similar pressure to be open and transparent in their dealings with the public including in relation to complaints.

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