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Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): First, may I say how grateful I am to have the opportunity to raise the case of my late constituent, Christopher Rochester, once again in the House? I spoke of this tragic case in my very first Adjournment debate in October 2001 and it is with great regret and sadness that I have to tell the House that Christopher's family continue to fight for justice.
I want to focus my remarks on what has happened in the case since October 2001, but it may be useful if I set out the circumstances in which Christopher Rochester died. Christopher was a young man of 24, born and bred in Chester-le-Street in my constituency. In June 2001, he travelled to the island of Rhodes for a summer break, as thousands of young people do every year. He was staying with his brother Keith, who had been working on the island. Christopher was a bright, intelligent young man, educated at the Hermitage school and New college, Durham. As his mother said to me, he had everything to live for. He travelled to Rhodes from Newcastle airport on 7 June 2000 and, sadly, by Sunday 11 June he was lying dead in a Greek hospital mortuary.
Early that morning Christopher had been found at the foot of the balcony of the apartment in which he was staying in Falaraki. He had fallen from the balcony on to the concrete patio below. Remarkably, he survived the fall. I have been to the scene, and it is indeed remarkable that he did so. What followed for Christopher, however, was a slow, painful, lingering death in the Andreas Papandreou hospital in Rhodes. The treatment that he received both before arriving at hospital and while he was there was nothing short of disgraceful.
First, 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, which is common procedure with back injuries. Having arrived at the hospital, he was received in the accident and emergency department and seen by a junior trainee doctor, Dr. Pavlidis. The doctor attended to the cut to the back of Christopher's head and ordered an x-ray to be taken of his back. The x-ray was taken and a possible fracture to the coccyx, in the lower back, was diagnosed.
Christopher, although in severe pain, was simply admitted to the orthopaedic ward. He continued to complain of a deep thirsta sign of severe shockand by that time his lower back had swollen to a large degree. He was given a pain-killing injection, but his thirst continued and his pleas for water were ignored by the staff. It was left to his friend, David Vest, to ferry cups of water from a drinking fountain in the corridor.
Mr. Jones: David stayed by his friend's bedside and drifted off to sleep, only to be awoken abruptly by a member of staff half an hour latera nurse in a very agitated state who asked him to leave. A curtain was drawn around Christopher's bed and a few minutes later a female nurse emerged to inform David that Christopher had died. Grief-stricken, David had the terrible task of having to tell Keith, Christopher's brother, that he had died. Keith then had to make the heart-wrenching decision to ring his mother to tell her that her young son was no longer alive.
The events of Sunday 11 June 2000 were tragic, but the way in which Christopher's family has been treated since can be described only as cruel, and the actions of the Greek authorities have led only to an increased feeling of real injustice on behalf of the family.
When Christopher's body was returned to the United Kingdom, it was taken to the University hospital of North Durham and a pathologist carried out a post-mortem in order to establish the cause of death. That, however, was hampered somewhat by the fact that Christopher's left kidney was missing. For some unknown and unexplained reason, it had been retained by the Andreas Papandreou hospital on the island of Rhodes.
Pam Cummings, Christopher's mother, was deeply upset by that news and contacted my predecessor, Giles Radice, who with the assistance of the British consulate in Rhodes got the Andreas Papandreou hospital to send the kidney back to the UK via the consulate. When the kidney arrived at the University hospital, for some unexplained reasonto this day she cannot explain the reason why she did itMrs. Cummings asked the local coroner, Mr. Andrew Tweddle, whether he would have it DNA-tested. Arrogantly, he refused, which added to the distress of the Cummings family. Undaunted, Mrs. Cummings paid to have the kidney tested privately by a leading independent genetics service in the north-east, North Gene, and to her horror her suspicions were proved right: the kidney was not that of her son Christopher.
We are now nearly four years on and there has still been no plausible explanation of why the kidney was removed and subsequently disappeared. The only suggestion that has come from the Greek authorities is that the British consulate in Rhodes must have somehow mixed up the kidney with another when it was taking responsibility for it. Frankly, that is an absolutely ludicrous and unacceptable explanation.
I have raised this issue again because the kidney is a vital piece of evidence in the case, and I turn to the reasons for that. Professor Redmond, who did the detailed report for the inquest in this country, was highly critical of the Greek pathologist's report on Christopher's death. The Greek pathologist put the death down to the fact that the renal artery and vein to the left kidney had been clearly severed and that his kidney was attached to his body only by the urethra. Professor Redmond disputes that for one clear reason: if that had occurred, Christopher would have been dead within less than an hour and possibly within less than half an hour due to massive blood loss through the severing of those two vital vessels.
The more plausible explanation put forward by Professor Redmond is that there was a small tear in the artery or vein that caused slow blood loss, and if
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untreated clearly led to Christopher's death. He states in his report that he does not understand why the left kidney was removed. He goes on to disagree completely with many of the Greek autopsy's conclusions.
If Christopher's left kidney had been left in place along with the attached artery and vein, it would have been simple to diagnose the cause of death as put forward by Professor Redmond. That demonstrates how important the missing kidney is to this case, although that is completely dismissed by the Greek authorities. It has never been mentioned in the court cases or in any of the investigations.
I have never been a conspiracy theorist but, for me, it is clear that the kidney was removed and retained to hide the truth surrounding how Christopher died. It should be borne in mind that the autopsy that took place in Rhodes at the Andrea Papandreou hospital was carried out by Dr. Stefif, who was employed by the hospital. I understand that there was no independent coroner or panel of coroners on the island at the time. It has subsequently come to light from information that the family received that two of the doctors who stood trial for the death of Christopher were present at the autopsy at the hospital.
It is remarkable that the person who undertook the autopsy, Dr. Stefif, has never been called to give evidence in any of the trials that have taken place, or any of the investigations into Christopher's death. The response to the missing kidney from the Greek authorities is that the kidney that has been provided is that of Christopher, despite independent DNA evidence to the contrary. I find it amazing that the Greek authorities seem to care little about the fact that the kidney, still residing after four years in the University hospital of North Durham, is clearly a Greek citizen's kidney.
On 14 January 2004, I received a letter from Baroness Symons, a Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, informing me that the investigation into the missing kidney had been closed. I and Christopher's family were grateful to the former Minister with responsibility for Europe, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), for raising the issue with his Greek counterpart. I am grateful also to Baroness Symons for her letter of 21 March, which stated that the consulate in Athens would be pursuing the issue, and in particular the identity of the kidney that was sent by the Andreas Papandreou hospital to the UK.
No one among Christopher's family and friends will be surprised if the answer that they finally get from the Greek authorities is that the kidney no longer exists. One of the people present at the autopsy has privately told the family's solicitors that the kidney was removed and thrown away. Although the witness is not prepared to put that on the record, he has on two occasions contacted the Greek solicitors. He is clearly in fear of his career and his future on the island of Rhodes.
I shall move on to some wider issues that are connected with getting justice for Christopher, for which the family have been fighting now for more than
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five years. It took a further two years from my raising the case in the House in October 2001 for the case to go for trial. The family twice flew to Greece before being told that the case was to be adjourned. On the third occasion, however, the trial went ahead on 27 September 2003. A verdict was reached and those responsible for Christopher's death were found guilty of homicide through neglect. The front page of the Daily Mirror summed it up with the headline, "Justice for Chris". Sadly, the ironic twist is that that verdict has been overturned.
Dr. Pavlidisalong with Dr. Karavolias and Dr. Sokoreloswas sentenced to three years for manslaughter as a result of neglect, but was bailed pending appeal. I attended the two-day appeal with the family and heard the devastating news. At the conclusion of the hearing there was no recess to consider the judgment, which the Greek solicitor representing the family found very unusual. The three judges in court simply held up sheets of paper in front of their faces to discuss the verdict. Within minutes, they lowered the sheets of paper and announced, almost dismissively, that the three doctors were to be acquitted. There was not a recess to discuss the evidence and, even though the evidence was stacked up against the doctors and the defence did not add any new evidence, the verdict was overturned.
If that was not bad enough, the formal written verdict has not yet been issued. The family's solicitor says that it should have been issued within two weeks of the initial appeal verdict, which was given on 8 February 2005, but we are still waiting for it. Yesterday, I spoke to the family's solicitor in Athens, who suspects that the court on Rhodes will delay issuing it until August, when the Greek legal system virtually closes down for the summer, which means that he and the family will not have any time at all in which to look at the document or make a legal response.
The issue needs to be addressed urgently. I am stunned by the fact that this can happen in a state that is a fellow member of the European Union. Having attended the court in Rhodes four times with the family, I am appalled by the shambolic nature of that justice system. When I raised the case four years ago, the main issue was medical negligence, but my concerns have widened. I have doubts about the care and medical facilities available on the island of Rhodes, and I am also anxious about whether the family of a UK citizen can secure justice and a fair trial there. I do not wish to castigate the entire Greek legal system, but there is a particular problem on that island, given the way in which the case has been handled.
I assure the House that Christopher Rochester's family will not give up their fight for justice, and neither will I give up the fight to find the truth. The family are considering taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights, and they may mount an appeal at the Greek supreme court if they are not thwarted by the lack of time to examine the published appeal verdict. This week, their solicitor initiated civil proceedings for damages against the Andreas Papandreou hospital. The family have never been concerned about compensation, but they have spent nearly £20,000 pounds fighting the case, even though they cannot afford it. They have been ably supported by family and friends, and they are clearly determined to find out the truth. They have the
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support of many people in my North Durham constituency and the north-east, and they have received expressions of support from people around the country.
I wish to close with the salutary thought that, the longer this case goes on, the worse it will look for the Greek medical profession and for the Greek legal system, but most importantly, the worse it will be for the family of Christopher Rochester.
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