29834Harry Richford was born on 2 November 2017 at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital in Margate, Kent. He died seven days later. A series of catastrophic failures both during labour and after his birth led to him being so severely brain damaged that his family was advised to switch off his life support.

Despite resistance from the hospital, Harry’s parents Tom and Sarah Richford, and his grandparents, pushed for a coroner’s inquiry into how the actions of the doctors and midwives resulted in Harry being so badly harmed. The hospital consistently refused to inform the coroner, and it was only after the Richfords contacted him directly that Harry’s death was notified. The NHS Trust to which the hospital belongs had lawyers to represent it at the inquest, but the Richford family faced presenting their side of the terrible events alone.

Unable to pay for the specialist legal help they needed to see justice done for Harry, Tom and his father Derek went to see their local MP, Sir Roger Gale, who immediately recognised the urgency of their situation. He said: "I felt they needed legal representation at the inquest, which is not necessarily something you’d normally have. But this case was so difficult and so sensitive, I felt that they needed a helping hand. And oh, my God, they got it."

Mr Gale referred the Richford family to Advocate to see if we could secure barrister representation for them during the inquest. All applications are reviewed by a senior barrister before they are approved and, in this instance, the papers went to Victoria Wakefield QC at Brick Court. Ms Wakefield immediately recognised the significance of the case and found two barristers in her own chambers, Jennifer MacLeod and Emma Mockford, who agreed to help.

Due to the level of administrative support needed to carry out the inquest, Brick Court used a scheme run by LawWorks called Pro Bono Connect to partner with a firm of solicitors willing to help with the mammoth task of preparing all the necessary paperwork. City firm Arnold & Porter came forward to offer their resources and the team was complete.

Recalling the painful events, Sarah and Tom explained how they instantly felt safe, saying: "The legal team were incredible. They explained the whole situation so clearly and offered us every opportunity to be a significant part of the process. They could not have been more professional or had more empathy, which is something we will never be able to express enough gratitude for. Throughout the case they showed they cared deeply about us, about Harry and wanted justice for us, as well as to expose the unfairness of the systems we were facing."

Thanks to the family’s dogged pursuit of the truth and their desperate desire to bring some peace and closure to Sarah and Tom, by the time the inquest was conducted in January 2020, the Richfords had amassed over 4,000 pages of information and statements. Harry’s grandfather, Derek, remembers feeling overwhelmed at the start, saying: ‘Can you imagine that as a family, we were up against what ended up being a three-week inquest with 4,000 pages of information and we were expected to represent ourselves. The doctors testifying at the inquest all had lawyers representing them, the NHS Trust had the head of medical negligence for Clyde and Co and supposedly, we were to have nothing. How could we have managed on our own?’

On the morning of the second day of the inquest, the NHS Trust dropped 1,400 pages of new evidence on the Richfords. Without the resources of a large firm of solicitors behind them and barristers to handle the inquest, the Richfords said they would have been ‘emotionally broken’ by such a move. But the legal team sprang into action, the paperwork was processed, sorted, copied and they were asking questions on it by that afternoon.

After a gruelling three weeks, the coroner, barrister Christopher Sutton-Mattocks reached a finding that Harry’s death was contributed to by neglect, logging seven separate incidents where proper care was not provided and serving the East Kent NHS Trust with a set of 19 concerns, with recommendations as a Prevention of Future Deaths report.

The Richford family felt hugely relieved and Tom said: "It’s astonishing to me that you can have a public body, like an NHS Trust that can have all of the public funds they need spent on defending their indefensible behaviour and as an individual, you can’t have anything. Our legal team gave us an opportunity for justice and closure, and at the end of the day they are the two key things that matter to us all."

Jennifer MacLeod, one of the barristers at Brick Court said: "It was an honour and a privilege to work with the Richford family and the rest of the legal team on this case, and to assist with the family’s search for transparency and accountability after the tragic loss of baby Harry. It was an experience that I will never forget."

On 9 October 2020, the Care Quality Commission announced it would be criminally prosecuting the Trust on two counts of unsafe care and treatment; one for Sarah and one for Harry. This is the first prosecution of its kind for unsafe clinical care.

This article was also published by Counsel Magazine and is available here.