£40k payout over mum’s death

Denise Hopper.
Denise Hopper.

AMBULANCE chiefs will pay £40,000 compensation to the children of a north Northumberland woman, after the truth about her death finally emerged almost three years later.

Forensic psychologist Denise Hopper, 40, suffered a fatal heart attack on Boxing Day in 2007, while recovering at her Hipsburn home from road accident injuries she had sustained earlier that month.

Her car had skidded off the road at Newton on the Moor as she was travelling to work at Durham’s Frankland Prison.

She broke several vertebrae and ribs, as well as her breastbone, and after a week in hospital went home to recover.

But on Boxing Day she collapsed in her son James’ arms and died after a paramedic failed to diagnose deep vein thrombosis and treated her for dehydration instead.

The ambulance stayed outside her home for 35 minutes before taking her to Wansbeck Hospital in Ashington.

Unknown to Mrs Hopper’s family, however, the paramedic who treated her – Brian Jewers, from Shilbottle – was later disciplined for his failure. It was only when he was finally struck off two years later over the death of another patient that the truth about her treatment began to emerge.

Media coverage of Mr Jewers’ dismissal in 2009 was spotted by the Hoppers’ solicitor, Mary Ann Charles, who took up the case for the family. North East Ambulance Service has now agreed to pay out £40,000 to James, now 21, and his 19-year-old sister Kerry-Ann.

James, who is studying aerospace engineering at Liverpool, said: “It’s all come about only because our lawyer happened to be reading the paper and made the connection.

“There’s not a lot we can say which properly vocalises how grateful we are to her. The NHS people thought they could deal with it secretly and not tell us.

“We had to find out through a public medium and I feel cheated. It brought all the suffering back – sleepless nights, all the stress, the anger the frustration, it all came back.”

Kerry-Ann, who is studying for an honours degree in travel and tourism management at Durham’s New College, said: “The way the ambulance people dealt with it makes me sick to my stomach. If Mary Ann hadn’t spotted it we might never have known the truth. For three years we blamed ourselves and wondered if there had been something we could have done to save her, and they let us go on feeling that”.

Even a coroner’s inquest held in September 2008 was unaware of the misdiagnosis, after being told Mr Jewers could not give evidence inquest because he had left the ambulance service.

In fact, he was only suspended at the time and was still employed by the health trust.

It was not until November 2009 that Mr Jewers, 54, was struck off by the Health Professions Council for refusing to give treatment which could have saved a heart attack patient’s life in March the previous year.

But it was at that hearing where in emerged that the paramedic had been disciplined for his treatment of Mrs Hopper, demoted and ordered to undergo further training.

Mary Ann Charles said: “If I hadn’t seen that newspaper and recognised the paramedic’s name my clients would never have known. The time limit to take legal action would have passed, and with it their hopes of getting to the truth.

“You have to make a formal complaint or sue the health service to find out what happened. In a matter like this, that is a shocking and horrible state of affairs.”