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Law change to allow inquests for stillbirth cases delayed by COVID-19

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In order to fight for a change in the law for independent coroners’ investigations to be extended to stillbirths and to try and improve maternity safety for other parents, Michelle Hemmington, together with her co-founder Nicky Lyon, set up the Campaign for Safer Births (CFSB) in 2013.

Since then, Michelle has lobbied parliament and has given presentations up and down the country to coroners to garner support for the cause. Shoosmiths has been proud to support Michelle and the CFSB in their efforts to seek justice for all parents in similar circumstances.

Inquests for stillbirths hoped to be law

MP Tim Loughton’s Private Members’ Bill had its third reading in the House of Lords early last year, followed by government consultations which finished in June 2019. It was hoped that the law would be changed to make an Inquest mandatory in all stillbirths which occur at 37 weeks. Unfortunately, there has been a delay in this happening because of the pandemic. When the law is passed this means an independent investigation into what went wrong will automatically happen, without any need to gain consent or permission from a third party before exercising this new power. The coroner will also be able to consider whether any lessons could be learned and make recommendations to improve safety.

Michelle’s experience

Michelle’s motivation in co-founding the Campaign for Safer Births stems from her own experience when she and her partner Paul Buckley were overjoyed at the prospect of their first child (a baby boy) Louie being born. Michelle had enjoyed a healthy pregnancy, and, on the 17 May 2011, she went into labour and was taken to Northampton General Hospital. Paul and Michelle’s twin sister Donna were present for support. 

After many hours of labour Michelle and Paul became very concerned about the apparent lack of progress. An episiotomy was performed, and Louie was delivered and put on a resusitaire. 34 minutes later doctors told Michelle and Paul that Louie had died. The shock and disbelief at what happened will remain with them all forever. Louie’s death was classified as a stillbirth, but Michelle still disputes that to this day. About a week after Louie’s death the couple received a letter from the hospital saying that an internal investigation had been launched but Michelle and Paul wanted an independent investigation as to what went wrong.

Changes to law

Under the law as it stands HM Coroner is only obliged to hold inquests for babies who had shown signs of life after being born. But, since Louie was officially declared stillborn, aside from an internal hospital investigation, there was no legal requirement for an independent investigation by a coroner into his death. Michelle was left with many questions about her son’s death and little hope of ever getting all the answers she sought.

The serious incident report compiled by the hospital highlighted 19 separate failings on the day of Louie’s birth, but it took over four years of litigation before the trust finally admitted liability. Michelle’s original case was handled by Sarah Harper, a legal director in Shoosmiths medical negligence team.

She said:

“Michelle has done fantastically well with her campaign. She is an inspiration, and to work so hard to improve things so that others can benefit is to be admired, especially when she had her own grief to deal with. She now wishes to continue to help other parents who need advice following stillbirth.”

Michelle and Paul will never forget Louie. Both feel that, with a successful change to the law, his legacy will now live on.

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