January 19, 2017
Elizabeth Markham, Assistant Coroner for the area of North West London, presented her conclusions: “I make this report under paragraph 7, Schedule 5, of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and the regulations 28 and 29 of the Coroners Investigations, Regulations 2013…”
“On seventh of January 2015, I commenced an investigation into the death of Gail Fitzpatrick. The investigation is concluded on this nineteenth day of January 2017. The findings of the inquest are that Gail Fitzpatrick, four months pregnant at the time of her death, died from injuries sustained as a result of a tragic road traffic accident.
“The medical cause of death was Severe Cardiac Arrest.
Michael Fitzpatrick shifted in his seat. The coroner’s summing up had his head spinning. What was she saying? That his family could have been saved? Shaking his head he mumbled into his hands the words his father-in-law had declared days before: “The government has failed this country once again.”
Eyes front, images blurred into one.
Dear God …
The coroner’s words floated over Michael’s head. Official. Foreign. Impersonal.
He turned away, blocking the rest of her words. Had it not been for his father in law they’d have got away with it. Gail’s father had pressed to sue the hospital for negligence and he’d been proven right.
Gail should have lived. Our baby should have lived.
He stared at them, the medical staff. The experts who had failed to save his beautiful wife and the precious life she carried, and he wondered how their day was going.
A hushed court watched as Markham sat with her arms resting on the bench, hands clasped. Her demeanour gave nothing away, except the slight downward turn of her mouth.
Or was I imagining that?
The outfit she wore wasn’t what I’d expected: a well-cut designer suit in tweed. It looked like tweed from where I sat. Silvery-grey hair framed a pleasant face that would have appealed more if it smiled.
She leaned forward onto her arms and continued, “My concerns lie with the competence of staff on duty. A Sunday afternoon, and there were no senior medical practitioners on the premises. Junior staff were left to cope alone. By the time the on‑duty Registrar arrived Mrs Fitzpatrick had passed …”
At least her closing speech lifted the weight off my shoulders. I could walk away and never look back.
Don’t kid yourself, Ned Lucas.
I’d never be free of Gail Fitzpatrick. Her name forever etched on my subconscious.
After the announcement of the verdict a muttering of voices infiltrated the scene. Fitzpatrick’s family looked stunned. Her husband, Michael, stared at us – at me. My relief slowly dissipated. At that moment, with his eyes trained on mine, I wanted to die.
We’d cocked up.
Big fucking time.
The system had failed him. We had failed him.
Markham was right, things weren’t working. Staffing levels at the hospital were on the periphery of good practice, threatening to fall below par and people died because of it.
That doesn’t exempt you, Lucas.
“It’s not your fault, Ned,” Josh whispered, his eyes focussed on Fitzpatrick.
Best mate since university, Josh had insisted on coming to the inquest, to provide some moral support. God knew I needed a shoulder to lean on, I got shit else from colleagues – people I thought had my back.
“I blame the system,” he finished.
Yeah, well, that’s too fucking easy.
We were a team. The one thing I couldn’t get past. I eyed Paul Ryan, the registrar on duty that afternoon, or he should have been.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Josh said and hustled me out of there sharpish.
He guided me to a café down the road from the courthouse. I sat at a corner table with my back to the window, eyes on the door. I’d read it in all the crime books, fiction and non‑fiction: always sit where you can see the door so you can spot your enemies. I reckoned I’d be watching doors for the rest of my miserable life.
“She’s not bad.” Josh plonked a glass mug of latte in front of me, nodding at the cashier.
Really? You’re doing this now?
I ignored him, took a mouthful of coffee and almost spat it back out. The roof of my mouth would be red raw for days.
It’s the least of your worries, Lucas.
“Hey, where you at?”
I looked across at Josh. He didn’t really get it, but I was glad he’d come. Lucy said she might.
Yeah and pigs might fly.
Lucy had never really forgiven me for letting Ryan pin the blame on me.
“Stand up to him, Ned,” she’d said the last time we’d spoken – couldn’t remember when that’d been. “He’s a bastard. A fucking wanker. Don’t let him push you around.” A Londoner, she spouted the lingo like a pro.
She didn’t get it either. I wanted out. I couldn’t hold my head up anymore so it didn’t matter. Three deaths in three months. Three deaths that could have been avoided.
Thank God I wasn’t on duty for the other two.
But Ryan had been. No one would say it. No one had the balls to stand up and say it: that Ryan couldn’t handle the responsibility.
No one, Lucas, not even you.
Maybe the coroner’s report was exactly what was needed to weed him out. Karmic retribution was just around the corner for our man Ryan.
Resistance is futile.
“Ah, sorry, mate. It’s hard, you know.”
“Of course I do.” He eyeballed me.
Wait for it.
“Listen, why don’t we go out tonight? Get some London boogie in before we go home.”
I shook my head.
“Come on, man. You could do with a good humping.”
“What d’you say, eh?” He kicked my foot under the table.
Might as well, I had nothing else to do except get drunk at the hotel bar and throw up in the hotel toilet and wake up in the hotel bed with a hangover.
And at the end of all that I’d still want to die.
Copyright (2018) M J Christie