Raychel Ferguson inquest: Coroner rejects call to stand down

Raychel Ferguson died in June 2001

Raychel Ferguson died in June 2001

THE coroner presiding over a new inquest into the death of Raychel Ferguson has rejected an application for him to stand down after the Ferguson family accused him of bias.

Counsel for the Fergusons made a formal application last week for coroner Joe McCrisken to recuse himself.

Raychel (nine), from Coshquin, Co Derry, died from hyponatraemia - an abnormally low level of sodium in the blood - at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in June 2001.

The day before her death, she underwent an appendix operation at Altnagelvin hospital in Derry.

A new inquest - the second into the nine-year-old's death - began last week after a 2018 hyponatraemia inquiry into the deaths of five children in hospitals in Northern Ireland found four of them, including Raychel's, were avoidable.

In written submissions asking for Mr McCrisken to stand down, counsel for the family said some of the comments he made at the inquest last week indicated a “bias” against the family.

However, Mr McCrisken told the inquest at Bishop Street Courthouse in Derry today that he would not be standing down.

He said that having considered all submissions made to him “I can safely conclude that the next of kin assertion that I should recuse myself because of bias must be rejected”.

He added that he had “no bias against the Ferguson family, and I utterly reject any allegation of bias”.

The family said they were upset at comments made by Mr McCrisken about the public inquiry.

Mr McCrisken reminded the inquest today that he said last week: “The Fergusons and everyone else sat through a multi-million pound public inquiry… what else do you think needs to be discovered at this inquest which was not discovered at the public inquiry?”

He said the remarks were made in the context of a question to the Ferguson family’s counsel, who accepted that the family had received answers from the public inquiry.

Mr McCrisken said that he wanted to “discharge my legal responsibility to conduct a full, fair and fearless inquest into the circumstances of Raychel’s death”.

Raychel Ferguson's parents, Raymond and Marie, outside Derry courthouse. Picture by Claire Simpson, The Detail

Raychel Ferguson's parents, Raymond and Marie, outside Derry courthouse. Picture by Claire Simpson, The Detail

Following a short break, the inquest heard evidence from nurses Michaela McAuley, Avril Roulston, Fiona Bryce and Daphne Kirk.

All four women said that at the time of Raychel’s death they were not familiar with the term hyponatraemia.

Nurse Bryce said she had “never encountered any issues with fluids” and had “known of low sodium but not the term hyponatraemia”.

The inquest heard that there is an ongoing police investigation into Raychel’s death.

The nurses were asked specific questions by counsel for the family and coroner about their roles in Raychel’s care.

However, Mr McCrisken warned them that they did not have to answer under inquest rules against witnesses incriminating themselves, in light of the police investigation.

The nurses declined to answer the questions.

The inquest also heard from Dr Simon Haynes, an expert in paediatric anaesthesia.

Dr Haynes previously gave evidence to the Hyponatraemia Inquiry.

In reference to a report he wrote in 2011, Dr Haynes said a blood sample should have been taken from Raychel because she was receiving intravenous fluids.

He said the nine-year-old had received such fluids “beyond the point it would normally have been required”.

Counsel for the Western trust, which is responsible for Altnagelvin hospital, asked him if it was accurate that issues with giving such fluids to children “had not been fully recognised” at the time of Raychel’s death.

“Yes I think that’s an accurate summary,” he said.

The inquest continues.

Receive The Detail story alerts by email