Parents secure fresh inquest into death of eight-week-old baby son after six years
Olympian Allyn Condon and his wife have secured a new inquest into the death of their eight-week-old son after a six-year battle for “the truth”.
Ben Condon, born prematurely, died in Bristol Royal Hospital for Children on April 17 2015 after developing a respiratory illness.
His parents – Allyn Condon, 47, and 39-year-old Jenny Condon (pictured) – believe their son should have been given antibiotics in the days leading up to his death, but a two-day inquest in 2016 was told this would not have prevented it.
In 2017, the University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust admitted that their failure to give Ben timely antibiotics had contributed to his death.
A hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday heard that the trust told Ben’s parents it had obtained “the latest clinical perspectives” and “further expert evidence” when re-examining their son’s case.
The court was told that Mr and Mrs Condon argued that the trust’s change of position on the cause of death and further information “plainly necessitates a further inquest”.
Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, sitting with Mrs Justice May, concluded that the admission of new evidence at another inquest “raised at least the possibility of a different conclusion being reached”.
Ben’s parents, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, were present at the hearing and appeared tearful as the judgment was read out.
The court heard that Ben was born at 29 weeks at Southmead Hospital in Bristol on February 17 2015 and spent seven weeks in the paediatric intensive care unit.
He returned home but on April 10 he was readmitted to hospital and diagnosed with human metapneumovirus (hMPV) – like the common cold in adults – and later diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
He was also tested for pseudomonas, a bacterial infection, with a positive result.
Ben’s condition worsened and it was decided he should be prescribed antibiotics at 11am on April 17 but these were not administered until 8pm.
By that time he had suffered a cardiac arrest and he died just after 9pm, having suffered a second cardiac arrest.
Senior coroner for Avon, Maria Voisin, said Ben’s death was caused by ARDS, hMPV and prematurity.
On Wednesday, his parents’ barrister, Jennifer MacLeod, told the court that they had “very significant concerns about what happened that night and what followed”, adding: “Many of those concerns were not addressed at the time.”
She said their view was that “there was at the very least a lack of clarity as to whether pseudomonas was relevant”, but medical experts told the inquest that it was not relevant to the cause of death and antibiotics would not have changed the outcome.
The court heard that in January 2017, Ben’s parents initiated and eventually settled a civil claim for clinical negligence against the trust, which issued a public apology nine months later.
On October 5 that year, its chief executive Robert Woolley stated: “We failed to take the opportunity to give Ben timely antibiotics and this contributed to his death.”
Ms MacLeod told the court that a day earlier Mr Woolley had written to the then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt saying the hospital’s “view at the time” of the inquest was that “earlier administration of antibiotics would probably not have prevented death”.
But he said that following a “thorough reappraisal” it now believed that “it missed an opportunity to provide him with timely antibiotics”.
It added that, despite differing medical opinions over giving antibiotics to premature babies, it was “only right to acknowledge the view that Ben would on the balance of probabilities have survived, if antibiotics had been given sooner than they were”.
Ms MacLeod also highlighted to the court the finding of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman earlier this month that there was a “catalogue of failings” in Ben’s care.
The ombudsman, which did not consider the issue of antibiotics, found Mr and Mrs Condon suffered a “serious injustice” in the way the trust responded to their questions after Ben died and in its handling of their complaints.
Ms MacLeod said in written arguments that the trust’s change in position over Ben’s death “renders it necessary or desirable that the original inquest be quashed and a new inquest ordered”.
Alison Hewitt, representing the coroner, said she took a “neutral position” over the call for a fresh inquest, noting in written submissions that she had not seen the new evidence.
Nageena Khalique QC, for the trust, an interested party in Wednesday’s hearing, said it accepted there should be a new inquest and offered its condolences to Ben’s parents.
Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said there could be “no doubt” that the trust’s public change of position “constitutes new evidence” and ordered the original inquest be quashed.
A “delighted” Mr and Mrs Condon said after the hearing that they “look forward to finally getting the truth about Ben’s death”.
They added: “For more than six years, we have battled to find out what happened to our beautiful baby boy.
“We’ve been cast aside, disregarded, lied to, and deceived, when all we wanted as Ben’s parents, was to understand why he lost his life and ensure that no other family has to endure the same heartache we have.
“Today’s ruling gets us closer to closure after our long fight for justice and we will now focus on the new inquest.”
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