Clarification promised on Board's four years' of missing documents

The inquiry heard evidence about documents from WHSSB from 2000-2004

The inquiry heard evidence about documents from WHSSB from 2000-2004

By Niall McCracken

A lawyer representing the former Western Health and Social Services Board has promised clarification about documents spanning a four year period which the inquiry never received.

Brett Lockhart QC provided an assurance to inquiry chairman Mr Justice O’Hara earlier today (Thursday) after new questions arose in evidence yesterday about documents which had been prepared for the inquiry and handed over to the office of the WHSSB Chief Executive to be forwarded to the inquiry – but the inquiry says not “a single document” reached it.

The issue arose during the evidence yesterday of Dr William McConnell, who was Director of Public Health at WHSSB when he was questioned about documents within the board relating to issues around fluid safety between 2000 and 2004.

Junior counsel to the inquiry, Mr Martin Wolfe, asked Dr McConnell if he was ever asked to gather records for delivery to the inquiry:

Dr McConnell: Yes. Very specifically, Stephen Lindsay, who was chief executive at that time, set up a project and specified an administrator who would head up that project to collect all of those records. I was asked tor view everything relevant in my department. I reviewed all the paper files, any written files, and any of the electronic documentation which would have been either on my laptop or the desk computer. Those were all identified, the administrator then came over and double-checked all of that. Now, in some senses for me it was a bonus because she had previously been my PA, so she knew the workings of my department. She was able to identify the files, look at them, check the electronic record, garner everything that was relevant, and then that was taken to Mr Lindsay’s office and sequestered to be forwarded to the inquiry.

The Chairman: Sorry, you’re saying there was documentation which was gathered and provided to Mr Lindsay’s office?

Dr William McConnell: Yes. I can’t comment on the extent of what that was, but I certainly would feel that there was paper and some electronic records.

Mr Wolfe asked Dr McConnell if this documentation related specifically to the period 2000- 2004 as this is where the inquiry’s gap in information from the board appeared to be:

Dr William McConnell: I cannot help you more widely than my department because the project was being run from the chief executive’s office. But in relation to my own department, I believe there were electronic and paper records that had som reference.

Mr Wolfe: We know, for example, that the Trust had written to you. In May 2000, Dr Kelly had written to you in May 2000. You would expect to see that letter on your file.

Dr William McConnell: Yes.

Mr Wolfe: If we can see it on the Trust’s file?

Dr William McConnell: Yes.

Mr Wolfe: We would expect to see any notes that you might have made arising out of telephone conversations, recording advice that you might have given, all that kind of thing.

Dr William McConnell: Yes.

Mr Wolfe: But the inquiry has seen nothing of that; can you assist us any further?

Dr William McConnell: No, I can’t assist you any further with that.

Responding to Dr McConnell’s evidence, Stephen Quinn QC, who represents the families of nine year-old Raychel Ferguson and nine year-old Claire Roberts said:

Mr Quinn QC: Mr Chairman, I feel I should get up and make the point on behalf of the parents on this point. This worse than hearing that a document exists and hasn’t been forwarded. This looks as though the documents have been gathered and haven’t been forwarded, which is a much worse offence than the documents simply being negligently cast aside. So on behalf of the parent that I represent, I would ask you, Mr Chairman, to make a full investigation into what now seems to a cover-up.

At the end of today’s hearing, Mr Lockhart, returned to the subject, telling the chairman:

Yesterday an issue arose regarding documentation and you very helpfully provided the steps taken by the inquiry. I just want to reassure the inquiry that we’ve also taken certain steps overnight and I hope to have a letter with the inquiry. I had in fact hoped to have it by 11 o’clock which, post-May, sets out the subsequent steps that were taken to try and locate these documents.

The inquiry continues next week.

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