Judiciary hits back after criticism of inquiry into elderly woman’s death

The Judicial Office for Scotland has taken the rare step of reacting to criticisms levelled at a fatal accident inquiry into the death of an elderly woman five years ago.

The body, which provides support to the Lord President in his role as head of the Scottish judiciary, dismissed an attack made by the woman’s son Michael Peterson on the Sheriff Principal for what he described in last week’s Shetland Times as his “partisan handling of the inquiry and its “grotesque determination”.

Eileen Peterson, 84, of Taing House, died in March 2005, just five hours after being released from the Gilbert Bain Hospital.

She had been prescribed antibiotics to treat a suspected urinary tract infection, however a post-mortem examination revealed she subsequently died of pneumonia.

Three years ago the inquiry led by Sheriff Pincipal Sir Stephen Young QC cleared NHS Shetland of any blame for Mrs Peterson’s death.

The health board subsequently apologised to Mrs Peterson’s family for the treatment she had received.

Mr Peterson made his comments after it emerged a senior consultant at the Gilbert Bain, Dr Ken Graham, will have to stand before a fitness to practice panel at the General Medical Council (GMC) over his treatment of Mrs Peterson.

A spokeswoman for the Judicial Office for Scotland said Mr Peterson was “present throughout the inquiry and could have led evidence to challenge any of the evidence he disputed. This did not happen”.

“The evidence presented at the FAI was uncontradicted and therefore he [Sir Stephen Young] was unable to make any other findings under the terms of the Act.”

In his determination the Sheriff Principal stated: “In the course of the inquiry I heard evidence from … a very experienced consultant physician in geriatric medicine at Perth Royal Infirmary.

“His uncontradicted evidence was to the effect that there was nothing that the staff of the hospital could have done to save Mrs Peterson’s life following her admission to the hospital.

“It was not suggested that anything might have been done to save her life in the few hours that elapsed between her return to Taing House and her death.”

The determination said Mr Peterson had responded to questions during the inquiry.

However, given the chance to give evidence about other matters he may have wished to raise he “added nothing to his earlier evidence. Nor did he call any other witnesses to give evidence”.

“In short, nothing that he said came anywhere near satisfying me in light of the evidence which was actually led that there was any reasonable precautions which might have been taken before Mrs Peterson’s admission to hospital … whereby her death might have been avoided or that there had been any defects in any system of working which had contributed to her death.”


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