Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters

Hillsborough television drama

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7084.901a (Published 22 March 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:901
  1. David Slater, Consultant histopathologista
  1. a Sheffield

    Editor–Reviewing the television dramatisation of Hillsborough, Ed Walker states that a pathologist (identified in the programme as myself) was shown persuading a witness, an off duty Liverpool policeman, to change his evidence about what time he was resuscitating one of the victims.1 This comment must be rebutted as totally inaccurate. I had no part in obtaining this evidence and the statement of the witness, contrary to that in the programme, contained no designated time. The duty of a pathologist at an inquest is to present the pathological facts and findings and offer unbiased opinions that will assist the coroner and jury. It is incongruous that any pathologist should coerce a witness to change his or her evidence, with the resulting potential for a miscarriage of justice. Purely at the suggestion of the coroner, my telephone conversation with the witness was made to arrange a meeting during the inquest at the Medicolegal Centre, Sheffield. It had no clandestine motives, as portrayed by McGovern, and I was not consulted about the content of the programme. It is also to be regretted that McGovern's carefully contrived editing of my inquest evidence could give the false impression that the mode of death at Hillsborough was “instantaneous, pain free, and with no discomfort.” It is unfortunate that Walker's article again highlighted and misconstrued some of these inaccuracies. I have interpreted my representation in this programme as unjust and am seeking a ruling from the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

    At the inquest, medical opinions were expressed on traumatic awareness, the rapidity of unconsciousness, and the timing of death. On the basis of factual evidence, the views of the pathologists involved, and expert neurological opinion, the coroner decided that all those who received fatal injuries were dead (no heartbeat or no cortical activity) by 3 15 pm. Expert pathological testimony on the timing of death can be extremely difficult. Accordingly it is desirable, whenever possible, that other evidence is taken into account. Likewise, the medical declaration of death can be fraught with clinical difficulties. The coroner therefore decided that the medical basis of the impressions of lay witnesses of whether people were alive or dead should be explored diligently. Hence my meeting with the witness. Until seeing McGovern's programme I had no reason to believe that any witness had reservations about the evidence he or she presented. Evidence of one witness, not used by McGovern, states that the clarifications referred to in the programme were based primarily on the witness's improved clinical understanding following his later paramedical training. Most importantly, however, all verbal evidence given at an inquest is on oath and is individually upheld “to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

    I thank those colleagues who, despite McGovern's programme and Walker's article, have not doubted my professional integrity in the matter.

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