Bereaved Londoners among families take legal action over care home pandemic deaths

Frederick and Elsie, parents of Steve Bethell from Dulwich, who died days apart  (Leigh Day)
Frederick and Elsie, parents of Steve Bethell from Dulwich, who died days apart (Leigh Day)

Bereaved families of people who died in care homes and hospitals in the early stages of the pandemic are starting legal action against the Government.

Relatives are arguing the State failed to protect them under the Human Rights Act and have issued legal claims for damages for loss of life, personal injuries, pain and suffering, anxiety, distress and feelings of injustice, the law firm representing them said.

Law firm Leigh Day said the cases concern 30 deaths near the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic when patients infected with the virus were being transferred from hospitals into care homes.

Six of those who died were couples, a solicitor said.

A number of Londoners are among those taking action.

Among them is Amanda Henry, from east London, whose father Robert Christie Devlin Henry died aged 78 in a nursing home.

Kim Nottage, from Bethnal Green, lost her mother Maureen , 86, at the same nursing home.

Kim Nottage’s mother Maureen (Leigh Day)
Kim Nottage’s mother Maureen (Leigh Day)

Great-grandmother Maureen, who was described as “the heart” of her family, died on April 7, 2020.

Maureen’s family say they were not been informed she was being tested for Covid prior to her death, and feel they were robbed of the chance to say goodbye to her.

“My mum died alone - all alone,” Ms Nottage told the Standard. “We never got that chance [to visit and say goodbye]. We were never even being told how ill she was.”

Steve Bethell, from Dulwich, lost both his parents, Frederick, 90, and Elsie, 85, when they died at a care home in Surrey.

The “very close” couple had been married for 57 years and “did everything together”.

Frederick died on his wife’s birthday, around a week into the first lockdown, in late March 2020. He had been treated at the care home for a respiratory infection his family now believe to have been Covid, though he was not tested for the virus.

Amanda Henry, of East London, whose father Robert Henry (Leigh Day)
Amanda Henry, of East London, whose father Robert Henry (Leigh Day)

Mr Bethell said the death of his mother just days later was “particularly distressing” for the family.

“She immediately got quite obviously sick,” Mr Bethell told the Standard. “During that following week it became clear to us that she had Covid and she needed to see a doctor - she needed admitting to hospital, and nothing was being done.

“[One morning]I told the home that lockdown or not I was coming over because something needed doing and they weren’t taking any action.”

But as he got into his car that morning he received a call saying his mother had been admitted to hospital with Covid. She was unable to have any visitors, and tragically died there.

Lawyers said the families intend to argue the State failed to protect their rights through failures to publish procedures, appropriate guidance, policies and rules to be applied by operators of care homes, healthcare settings and hospitals.

The legal claims have been issued in the High Court against the Health Secretary, individual care homes and hospital trusts, lawyers said.

Leigh Day partner Emma Jones said: “We had hoped to try to progress our arguments without being forced to start legal action, but unfortunately not all of the defendants would agree to extending the deadline for formally launching the cases.

“As a result, we have taken the necessary step of issuing these claims to protect the positions of our clients and the loved ones they have lost. You cannot underestimate the impact of the tragic loss of life, losing a loved one in such harrowing circumstances, has had on our clients.

“We hope that through bringing these cases there will be a full and thorough investigation into the deaths, which might help our clients to feel they have obtained justice for their loved ones.”

Solicitor Beatrice Morgan said: “Our clients believe that the guidance issued by the Health Secretary in the early weeks of the pandemic led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

“Many feel strongly that rather than trying to protect older people during that time, the guidance put their loved ones at an avoidable risk of harm.”

The claims follow a High Court ruling last year that Government policies on discharging hospital patients into care homes at the start of the pandemic were “unlawful”.

In the latest action, the families involved are arguing their rights were breached through State’s failure to comply with its obligations to protect the right to life, respect the right to private and family life and protect the right not to be discriminated against.

The Government said it cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

But a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, our aim was to protect the public from the threat to health posed by Covid and we specifically sought to safeguard care home residents based on the best information at the time.

“We provided billions of pounds to support the sector, including on infection and prevention control, free PPE and priority vaccinations – with the vast majority of eligible care staff and residents receiving vaccinations.”

A procedural hearing likely to address timetabling and at which no evidence is expected to be heard is scheduled to take place at the High Court on September 27.