29 Jan Landmark Judgment – Caramella Brennan, Leon Clarke, Tammy Clarke, Rita Clarke, Kingsley Leader and Guiseppina Saia V Leeds Teaching NHS Hospitals Trust
Today Leeds County Court decided in the case of Brennan and Others v Leeds Teaching NHS Hospitals Trust that the Trust breached the human rights of the family of Emily Whelan by failing to preserve her body.
For the first time, a Court has determined that a Hospital has a legal obligation to treat a body with dignity and respect to ensure it does not badly decompose to prevent a breach of Article 8* of European Convention of Human Rights.
Emily Whelan died in the Leeds General Infirmary on the 8th November 2016. Her body was stored in the hospital’s mortuary until the 23rd December 2016 when it was transferred to the Bradford Mortuary. In a Judgment given on the 29th January 2021 at Leeds County Court, His Honour Judge Saffman found the hospital mortuary had permitted Emily Whelan’s body to “decompose to the extent it was not treated with dignity and respect” by the date of transfer to Bradford. The Court had heard evidence that the body was so badly decomposed it was unrecognisable.
The Court not only granted the family a declaration that their Article 8 rights had been breached but awarded each family member damages for the serious impact on them.
The case was brought by six family members of Emily Whelan led by Caramella Brennan, Emily’s mother. The family was represented by Mr Matthew Gold of Matthew Gold, solicitors and Nick Brown was the instructed barrister.
Comment from Mrs Brennan:
Emily’s family was devastated after we were informed that her body had only been refrigerated and not frozen by the Leeds General Infirmary after her death. We were told not to view her body because she had so badly decomposed we would not recognise her. The Leeds NHS Trust has failed to accept any responsibility for its role in this terrible incident and the impact it has had on us. The Trust has fought the family right through the case. The family’s conviction in wanting to hold the hospital to account for its unacceptable conduct has been vindicated by the Court. We could not have done more to respect our memories of Emily and the role she played in all our lives.
Comment from Mr Gold
The Human Rights Act continues to assist the victims of injustice to hold public authorities and their employees to account for conduct with devastating consequences. The Court decided, in a detailed and balanced judgment that there is now a legal obligation on mortuaries to properly preserve bodies to ensure they are given dignity and respect after death. To permit a body to so badly decompose that it becomes unrecognisable is not just morally repugnant it is now unlawful. The family’s long and hard fight against the Leeds NHS Trust has been vindicated and will hopefully, as the judgment points out, result in mortuaries improving their practices to ensure that this does not happen again.
Matthew Gold can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on 0778 696 8602
*Article 8 of the ECHR
Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.