Friday afternoon. The verdict finally came in at LB’s inquest. In an ‘you don’t need a weatherman’ kind of way, the jury’s questions to witnesses had suggested they were finding the family’s perspective on events more convincing than the Trust ones. Still, the extent of what the jury eventually found was more than I, for one, had dared hope for.
They didn’t buy the ‘died elsewhere’ finagle, stating firmly that Connor died in STATT, not at the John Radcliffe Hospital. They said that his death was ‘contributed to by neglect’ and set out a laundry list of serious failings, both within the unit, and beyond it.
It was exactly the right verdict, and the only shame was that it had taken so long to arrive: 824 days, to be exact. I watched the BBC news segment and hoped Connor’s family weren’t feeling too poleaxed by the media interest.
After Dad’s inquest finished, I remember being a peculiar mental place where most of my thoughts seemed suspended, but also twin-tracked. My body, voice and volition still seemed to be operating effectively, and one track of my consciousness was observing and noting this with rather surprised approval. The other track seemed to be running through an empty cavern of what just happened? so vast that all I could hear were echoes of thoughts that petered out into nothingness.
I remember handing out the family statement to the journalists and saying brief goodbyes to my mother and siblings; and then, of all the bizarre things, rushing to a shop to pick up a Dalek costume for Eldest, who was off to a Dr. Who convention the next day. I know I had just enough time to skedaddle to the station and make it across the platform and into the train, about 5 seconds before the doors slid closed. After that, it is pretty much blank. Thinking back to it now, I have a sensation of vacuum in my head, as though all my thoughts had been sucked out into that whispering void. If you’d asked me a question, I could probably have given you a pretty logical-sounding Track One answer. But the real me was lost, somewhere down along Track 2. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to answer journalists’ questions. They were content with the pieces of paper.
Connor’s family, on the other hand, walked out of court into a battery of cameras: BBC; ITV; Channel 4; journalists asking for reactions to the Sloven apology (which the Slove PR department extruded within minutes of the verdict being delivered; it went to the media, not to Connor’s family). On this Friday evening, I felt that familiar blankness of relief and released mental tension; I imagined Dr. Ryan might well also be beyond ordered thought or identifiable feelings. Late the following morning, she tweeted, ‘Still no coherent inquest thoughts’.
I watched the television segments about the inquest. Channel 4 and ITV pitched it pretty near perfectly, although I was still shouting into the ether when Sloven’s Medical Director said she was sorry for ‘what happened to Connor’ (“NO! You should be ‘sorry for what WE DID to Connor and for how WE FAILED him by not providing proper care’, you wretched woman!”) and when she began huffing and eye-rolling, even as she strained to avoid being verbally critical of Connor’s mother, I nearly sent the remote through the screen.
But Friday’s 10pm BBC report by Michael Buchanan bothered me. For me, it was jarring almost from the outset, starting by saying that Connor ‘died tragically’. I was disappointed to hear a BBC reporter using a rhetorical flourish that could have been lifted straight from the Sloven Manual of Duplicitous PR. Justice for LB has been calling out the ‘tragedy’ trope for eighteen months; and still is. Regrettably, I found the ending of the piece even worse: after alluding to Justice for LB and the LB Bill, it finished by saying that Connor ‘would not have died in vain if the NHS learns lessons from his preventable, untimely death’.
That had me squawking at parrot pitch again. As did the question on BBC breakfast on Sunday about ‘what positive things have come out of your (Dr. Ryan’s) experience?’; the questioner was clearly angling for a triumph-from-tragedy story.
Listen up, and listen well, folks, because here is where I lay it on the line for you.
There ARE no upsides to losing a child. The unnecessary death of a young man is not something that has positive aspects, spin it how you like. Connor’s death WAS in vain. His death was pointless and neglectful and preventable and appalling and couldn’t-care-less and just plain wrong in every respect. Nothing, nothing, can redeem that.
He was sacrificed, not to some greater good (as if any good, however great, could merit such a sacrifice) but to organisational cheeseparing and the vanity of clinical and managerial staff. In their egotism, certain of them refused, and still refuse, to acknowledge, or even admit the possibility, that they were in error of any kind. Some, like the psychiatrist Valerie Murphy, mulishly insist that they made correct decisions at all times. Others, like the Chief Executive Katrina Percy and Medical Director Lesley Stevens, make media-friendly, reputation-gilding, unforgivably tardy non-apologies or half-apologies; all of insulting inauthenticity.
But even if these monstrous egos could be deflated and brought to genuine remorse; even if every Health Trust and Local Authority in the country learned the lessons of LB’s death and put them faithfully and carefully into immediate practice; even if LB Bill were to be passed tomorrow and fully implemented the day after – Connor’s death would STILL be in vain.
Simply, it shouldn’t take the unnecessary death of a young man to prod organisations and people into doing the right thing. It shouldn’t need that, and it certainly isn’t worth it. Connor should still be here, living a good life the way he wanted to, and they should be doing the right thing anyway.