Opiate death relatives speak: ‘I wish I’d trusted my instincts and got him out’

Elsie Devine, 88
Died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital in 1999. Opiate drugs were partly to blame, an inquest found. Her daughter and granddaughter, Ann and Bridget Reeves, have been at the forefront of a 20-year campaign for justice.

“My seven-stone grandmother, who did not have dementia and was recovering from a kidney infection, was pinned to the floor by four nurses and given enough drugs to lay out a 6ft violent man,” Bridget said.

Arthur [Brian] Cunningham, 79
A former wartime fighter pilot, he died at the hospital in 1998. His death is among those found by a coroner to have been partially caused by opiate overdose. “I accused Barton of murdering him by refusing to let him return to consciousness,” said his stepson, Charles Farthing. “She arranged for a vicar to come and see me. I had a row with the bloody vicar as well. At the inquest they said he had bronchial pneumonia. He didn’t.”

Gladys Richards, 91
Died at Gosport hospital in 1998 as she recovered from a hip operation. Opiate drugs contributed, according to the coroner.

Her daughter Gillian Mackenzie, now 84 and in failing health, was the first relative to raise the alarm about Barton’s prescribing. “I know my mother was 91, but she shouldn’t have died when she did. What happened was wrong,” she said. “I want this to end up in a criminal court.”

Robert Wilson, 74
Was meant to be receiving rehabilitation after fracturing a shoulder. After refusing paracetamol, he told his family he was being drugged to death. “Help me — they’re killing me,” he begged his son, Iain Wilson.

“I said: ‘No they’re not, Dad. They are trying to do the best for you.’ When I went in the following day, he was in a coma. I nearly got thrown out for kicking up a fuss, but how I wish now I’d trusted my instincts and got him out.”

Edna Purnell, 91
Died in 1998. Her son Mike Wilson (no relation to Robert Wilson) worked with Gillian Mackenzie to get her death investigated, but died without answers nine years ago. “We have all her notes. We can prove what happened,” he told The Sunday Times a year before his death. “They threatened me with arrest when they caught me feeding her.”

His widow, Beryl Wilson, 81, said: “Mike was just too ill to keep going. He was being blocked at every turn.”

Geoffrey Packman, 66
Died in 1998, nine days after being transferred to Barton’s care in Gosport’s Dryad ward. At the 2009 inquest, which concluded that opiates were implicated in his death, his family’s lawyer challenged Barton on why she had referred to Dryad ward as “the end of the line for patients”.

Barton replied that patient notes often referred unrealistically to a need for rehabilitation. “We were not a rehabilitation ward,” she said.