Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3.28 pm

Mr. Stephen Twigg: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) for their support of the order. I am sure that we can maintain this cross-party consensus between the two Front Benches. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is not here now, but I reaffirm what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said earlier in welcoming him to the shadow Front-Bench team.

I am advised that the terminology that suggests that a lesser amount might be paid is because a Minister may decide not to draw the salary, or not to draw the full salary. There is no suggestion that the Government would

18 Oct 2001 : Column 1352

award a salary increase to Ministers but deprive the Opposition spokespeople of either all or part of the salary increase. If the order is agreed today, it will apply across the board. [Interruption.] I hear cries of "Shame" behind me. I am losing votes rapidly, but no doubt the Opposition will be happy with that reassurance.

On securing comparability with the private and the wider public sector—a point raised by the spokespeople of both Opposition parties—the task is immensely difficult, which is why the House decided to parcel it off to the SSRB in the first place. When we discuss the reports, we need to consider the basis on which the SSRB made its calculations. Over recent years, significant progress has been made in dealing with a situation that was unacceptable. People who were taking on major government responsibilities as Ministers were not having that recognised in the salaries made available to them.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove made a bid for money for those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench in the House of Lords. Clearly, that is not covered in the order, but it is a contribution that could be made to the continuing debate on the future character of the upper Chamber.

Mr. Forth: I hope that in any review of such a matter, the Minister and his colleagues will judge how far the Liberal party is a party of opposition or an adjunct of the Government. That would largely inform the extent to which it might be worth paying Liberal Members in this House or the other as pseudo-Ministers or an inadequate Opposition.

Mr. Twigg: I do not believe that there is any question of the Liberal Democrats joining the Government as Ministers in this place or the upper House. I will not be drawn into that discussion, or I may lose the limited support that I still have from Government Back Benchers.

The measure is a sensible one, implementing a proposal from the SSRB. To complete my answer to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, it is important that the increase applies to the two Members from the Conservative Opposition in the other place, to allow effective scrutiny and debate. The proposal is modest, it will not cost a great deal, and I hope that we can agree it this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.


18 Oct 2001 : Column 1351

18 Oct 2001 : Column 1353

Christopher Rochester

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Stringer.]

3.32 pm

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight the case of my late constituent, Mr. Christopher Rochester. Christopher was a young man of 24, born and raised in Chester-le-Street in my constituency. Like thousands of young people every year, he travelled to the island of Rhodes in June last year for a summer break.

Christopher travelled to stay with his brother Keith, who had been working on the island. He was a bright, intelligent young man, educated at the Hermitage school and New college, Durham. He had all to live for. He travelled to Rhodes from Newcastle airport on 7 June last year, waved off by his mother. He telephoned her the following day to say that he had arrived safely, the weather was lovely and he was happy to be with his brother Keith. He told his mother that he loved her and promised to ring on Sunday 11 June.

Christopher never made that telephone call. By then, sadly, he was lying dead in a Greek hospital mortuary. The call that his mother received was from his brother—a heart-breaking call, with the devastating and shattering news that Christopher was dead. Early that morning Christopher had been found at the foot of the balcony of the apartment in which he was staying in Falkari. He had fallen from the balcony on to the concrete patio below.

What followed for Christopher was a slow, painful, lingering death in the Andreas Papandreou hospital in Rhodes, and more than a year of appallingly cruel and tortuous treatment of his mother and family in their attempts to get answers as to why Christopher was allowed to die.

After being found lying bloodied and broken on the patio, Christopher had to wait 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Still conscious and being comforted by his brother Keith and friends, he was, in his brother's words, "shuffled" on to a stretcher and placed in the ambulance. Despite Christopher's complaints of severe back pain, no attempt was made to immobilise him or protect his neck. When he arrived at the Andreas Papandreou hospital in Rhodes town, he was received in the accident and emergency department and seen by a junior doctor. The doctor attended to Christopher's head wound and ordered x-rays to be taken of his back.

Christopher was in constant agonising pain, pleading to be given water to quench his thirst. His brother responded to his pleading by running backwards and forwards, his hands cupped full of water from a tap at the end of the room, while two members of staff stood by, casually smoking.

The x-rays were taken and a possible fracture to the coccyx was diagnosed. Christopher was admitted to an orthopaedic ward, still in severe pain, with a continuing deep thirst, and, by now, a large swelling on the lower part of his back. His brother Keith was told to go home. His friend David agreed to stay with Christopher. David sat next to his bed. Christopher was given an injection for his pain, but his thirst continued and again his pleas for water were ignored. It was left to his friend David to ferry cups of water from a water fountain in the corridor.

18 Oct 2001 : Column 1354

Pitifully, Christopher kept repeating to David that he thought he was going to die. David tried to reassure him that everything would be all right. David drifted off to sleep, only to be woken abruptly half an hour later by a nurse in an agitated state asking him to leave the ward. In his heart, David knew that something was seriously wrong.

The curtains around Christopher's bed were drawn. A female nurse emerged minutes later to tell him that Christopher was dead. David, grief-stricken by events, had the terrible task of telling Keith that his brother Christopher was dead. Keith then had the unimaginably difficult job of ringing his mother to tell her that her young son was no longer alive.

I have briefly described events that would have been traumatic for any family to cope with, but what I am about to tell the House adds to them in the most cruel and inhumane way. No compassion was shown to Christopher's brother Keith. Having been told that his brother was dead, he had to identify the body. He was shown into the hospital mortuary by an attendant who spoke no English. The attendant removed three bodies from their cabinets until, on the fourth occasion, Keith was shown his brother's body—a traumatic experience for someone already suffering the shock of bereavement.

Next, Keith was interviewed by the local police, and made to wait for two and a half hours in the kitchen of a police station, having had little or no sleep for the past 24 hours. The interview was aggressive and was conducted through an interpreter, a retired tour guide who spoke only broken English. The statement was written out in Greek and no attempt was made to translate it.

A week later, Christopher's body was flown home, having been released by the local Greek undertaker only after his mother, Pam Cummings, had borrowed £2,500 from the bank to cover the costs of transportation. Christopher, like so many, had no travel insurance. The body was taken to the University hospital in Durham. There the pathologist undertook a post mortem and discovered that Christopher's left kidney was missing. It had been retained by the Greek hospital. Distressed by this news, Christopher's mother contacted my predecessor, Giles Radice, who, with the invaluable assistance of the British consulate in Rhodes, got the Greek authorities to send the kidney back to the UK via the consulate in Rhodes.

When the kidney arrived at University hospital in Durham, for some unexplained reason Mrs. Cummings asked the local coroner to have it DNA tested. That was refused. Undaunted, she paid to have the kidney tested privately. To her horror, her suspicions were proved right: the kidney was not that of her son, Christopher. Now, more than a year on, Christopher's family still waits for answers, frustrated by the Greek authorities' refusal to respond to the most basic requests for information.

In an editorial on 15 January this year, the Newcastle Journal newspaper summed up the main questions that remain unanswered: first, did Christopher receive the correct treatment for his injuries; secondly, why was his kidney removed, and where is it now; and, thirdly, what action has been taken against those involved? On the first point, there is clear evidence that Christopher did not receive the proper treatment that we would expect in a modern European country.

18 Oct 2001 : Column 1355

Professor Redmond, who drew up a report for the local coroner in Durham, said:

In his report, he criticised the Greek hospital authorities for ignoring the most basic of procedures. He said that, although the advance trauma life support procedure is used and recognised in Greece, it was not followed in this case and that, despite Christopher's being under the influence of alcohol, no attempt was made to conduct a thorough examination. Instead, it was used as an excuse for doing nothing. Christopher's thirst was clearly a sign that he was in shock and losing blood, but it was ignored. According to Professor Redmond,

The negligence continued right up to the end. No attempt was made to resuscitate Christopher, even though, as Professor Redmond said,

Clearly, the staff on duty that night at the Andreas Papandreou hospital in Rhodes displayed the most appalling negligence. For me, the most telling point from Professor Redmond's report was his conclusion:

No plausible explanation has been given as to why Christopher's left kidney was removed and retained in Greece. It would have been a vital piece of evidence in determining the cause of death and its omission has clearly hampered the pathologist who carried out the examination of Christopher's body in the UK. Mystery still surrounds the identity of the kidney sent to the UK and the whereabouts of Christopher's kidney. The only response from the Greek authority is that the correct kidney was given to the British consulate in Rhodes, implying that somehow it must have mixed it up with the no doubt large number of kidneys kept at the consulate. What a ludicrous notion.

On 25 and 26 July this year, an inquest was held in Durham into Christopher's death and the verdict given was accidental death contributed to by neglect. At the inquest, certain documents appeared for the first time. A report by the Papandreou hospital into the case names those responsible for the terrible treatment of Christopher. It says that Sergios Pavlidis, the trainee doctor on duty, failed to seek out the duty doctor or a specialist doctor to look at the patient and that Dr. George Karavolias, the emergency ward duty doctor, was in bed and left no instruction that he should be notified if an emergency was admitted. It also said that the two nurses on the orthopaedic ward failed to inform the duty doctor that Christopher had been admitted to the ward.

The same individuals were named in a second report produced at the inquest, this time by the public prosecutor's office in Rhodes. It had the telling words on the front cover, "Homicide as a result of negligence".

What has been the outcome? In short, we do not know. The family's attempts to get answers have been met with a wall of silence. I wrote to the Greek Ambassador on 3 September this year, but to date I have not even received an acknowledgement of my letter. Stephen Hughes, the Durham MEP, has made representations to the Greek health and justice ministers, but to date has had no replies.

18 Oct 2001 : Column 1356

The case that I have outlined is truly appalling. Respect must be paid to Mrs. Pam Cummings, Christopher's mother, and her family for the way in which they have tried with dignity to get answers but have been thwarted by a lack of co-operation from the Greek authorities.

According to the House Library, more than 2 million UK citizens visited Greece in 2000. Christopher Rochester was just one of those. Unlike others, he did not come back. Greece is not a third-world nation; it is a modern country and a member of the European Union, and we should expect decent health care if we fall ill while visiting. From the experience of Christopher Rochester, health care on Rhodes is clearly not adequate, and one would question whether it is safe for UK citizens to visit the island. The UK tourist trade to Greece in 1999 was worth £938 million. There should be an onus on both the Greek Government and UK tour operators to ensure that local medical services are of a higher standard than those on Rhodes.

Mrs. Cummings, a proud lady, knows that nothing will bring her son back, but if by highlighting this case she can prevent another mother from going through the torment that she has experienced, some good may have come out of Christopher's death. Clearly, the family wants answers to the questions that I have raised this afternoon. Any representation that the Minister can make on behalf of the family would be greatly appreciated in trying to bring this unhappy story to a close and finally allowing Christopher to rest in peace.

Next Section

IndexHome Page