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April 1st 2020

Civil Liberties

Inquests and Inquiries: Why we’re dedicated to standing by the side of families when fighting for justice

Vicky Richardson

Vicky Richardson

Head of Civil Liberties

Inquests and Inquiries: Why we’re dedicated to standing by the side of families when fighting for justice

Upholding justice across the legal system and supporting clients when things go wrong is central to our work at Hudgell Solicitors.

Upholding justice across the legal system and supporting clients when things go wrong is central to our work at Hudgell Solicitors.

Ultimately, we stand side by side with families and individuals when they have been badly failed, and it is a role our team undertakes with great passion, commitment and pride.

Our lawyers are currently supporting many families who, despite dealing with very different circumstances of loss, hurt and suffering, have a common goal. They want answers which, without expert legal support, are far from easy to attain.

The people we represent are most often not looking simply to blame. Of equal, if not greater interest to them is seeing full and transparent investigations held into the actions of state bodies, relating to the events which forever changed their lives.

That, we feel, is the least they deserve.

Whether it be failings in care provided by the NHS, national scandals which have caused irreparable damage to lives, or incidents where the actions of the police are called into question, families are often left feeling they are fighting for justice and answers alone when matters such as inquests and inquiries begin.

That should never be the case.

It is why we as a firm have established and recruited a highly-experienced team of specialists who care passionately about justice being served.

Inquests and inquiries must answer families’ key questions

Victoria Richardson, a specialist in representing people at inquests and in cases relating to civil liberties and human rights, has been part of the Hudgell Solicitors team involved in a number of recent and ongoing high-profile investigations.

These include representing families of those who lost their lives in the Manchester Arena bombing, a tragic event which will now be investigated in a public inquiry, following the conviction of Hashem Abedi, the brother of bomber Salman Abedi, for murdering the 22 people who died.

“The Manchester Arena bombing is a huge-scale investigation, crossing many Government agencies and involving many issues relating to national security, but our role, alongside our appointed specialist barristers, will remain the same as it does in any other inquest or inquiry,” says Mrs Richardson.

The Manchester Arena case is, of course, one of huge national significance, as have been investigations into the death of former Welsh Cabinet Secretary Carl Sargeant, who was found dead days after being sacked from the Labour party, with his impending removal from government having been leaked to the media before he knew himself.

Mrs Richardson and Neil Hudgell represented his family at inquest, at which the coroner highlighted his concern that there is ‘a real risk that future deaths’ in the event of political sackings unless action is taken by the Welsh Government’.

He also issued a Prevention of Future Deaths Report as a result of the evidence heard, hopefully leading to much needed changes in how such situations are handled in future within political parties.

Failure to protect victims of domestic violence a continuing concern

Mrs Richardson says domestic violence and abuse is an area of huge concern with regards to the protection of vulnerable victims – and an area in which inquests and inquiries have highlighted similar failings across a number of police forces.

“As a firm we are involved in a number of cases where the actions of police forces in protecting vulnerable people have unfortunately fallen well short of what is expected and required,” she said.

“We represented the family of Jacqueline Oakes at inquest last year, where it was concluded that she was unlawfully killed by her violent ex-partner Marcus Musgrove.

“It was found that the inappropriate decision to house Musgrove in the same accommodation as Jacqueline contributed to her death, and that despite regular multi-agency meetings about Jacqueline and the threat to her Musgrove posed, key information was not shared and acted upon accordingly.

“The case of Shana Grice, who was stalked by her ex-partner Michael Lane who then murdered her, was similar.

“Despite repeatedly reporting her concerns to Sussex Police about the threat he posed to her, officers instead issued Shana with a penalty notice for wasting their time, and just five months later, Lane had killed her.

“We also represented the family of Katrina O’Hara, who had expressed her concerns to her local police force in Dorset about threats being made to her by her former partner, Stuart Thomas, who later went on to stab her to death.

“Our team is also currently representing yet another family who lost a much loved daughter in very similar circumstances and that case will go to inquest later this year.

“For all these women, resultant changes in police procedures obviously come too late.

“However, we remain completely committed to ensuring all relevant bodies are fully questioned when the opportunity arises and that, if possible, recommendations and policy changes can be made in policing to better protect the public in future.”

Inquest into fatal shooting will pose serious questions of police

Hudgell Solicitors are instructed by the family of Lewis Skelton, who died after being shot by police in Hull on November 29, 2016.

An inquest into his death is to be held in June, and given more than three years have already passed since his death, Mrs Richardson says it will be a huge event for his family.

“Like many families, since that fateful day in November 2016, Lewis’ loved ones have had no answers yet as to why police took the action they did,” she said.

“All they know, after all this time, is that The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing. The inquest will be our opportunity, acting on the family’s behalf, to ensure a comprehensive and transparent hearing is conducted.

“We will seek to ensure it is a process which brings clarity and full explanations as to how and why events unfolded as they did that day, and whether anything could and should have been done differently to prevent Lewis from losing his life.”

Similar questions will be asked at an inquest in January 2021, when the deaths of four young gay men, Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor, are considered.

Stephen Port Murder Victims

They were all victims of murderer Stephen Port between 2014 and 2015, with a coroner having said that the jury will be asked to consider ‘whether the police investigations into the four deaths were affected by prejudice’.

All families have a right to legal representation

Having supported many families through the inquest process, Mrs Richardson says they can prove daunting experiences, and says it can be unfair if people don’t have the right representation.

“Too often families are told they don’t need any legal representation at inquests, especially if it is a case of a death in care or healthcare surroundings,” she says.

“Families then turn up at inquests to find the NHS, police or other state bodies have a team of lawyers acting on their behalf, working to ensure they can deflect blame as best they can.

“It is only right that families have access to that legal expertise too, and we are currently representing many who feel their loved ones would still be with them today had the agencies involved acted appropriately.

“Inquests are playing an ever-increasingly important role, not only in ensuring justice is served for those who lose their lives and that lessons are learned to better protect the public in the future, but also with regards to legal redress through civil claims.

“A coroner’s conclusion can prove supportive of future legal proceedings on behalf of families, such as civil claims for damages, and that is why it is imperative that state bodies are fully questioned and held accountable for their actions.

“It is why we as a firm have been so committed to developing our team in this area and expanding our work. We want to help ensure justice is served, and that changes and improvements are made.”

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