A grief-stricken daughter says she has been left traumatised after she was forced to wait two years to lay her mum to rest.
Tearful Rebecca told how the body of her mum Deirdre Hicks, a highly-respected music teacher who taught Sir Keir Starmer, is still in a morgue more than two years after she died.
Much-loved Deirdre died in July, 2020, in East Surrey Hospital where two pathologists gave different causes of death at the time.
Delays in the former Reigate Grammar School teacher’s inquest and three post-mortem examinations mean her corpse is still at the Walthamstow Public Mortuary in London.
“It’s all been about post mortems and all the horrible bits over these two years,” Rebecca said.
“I’ve had to go over and over the details of her deaths and you don’t normally do that. You don’t normally spend two years staring at photographs of your mother’s intestines.
“I’ve spent a lot of time crying. I’ve burst into tears a lot when I’m not expecting it and I’m very strong. I’ve been unable to work and with no income since June 2020 because I’ve been profoundly traumatised by the whole thing.
“My mum’s situation before she died was just overwhelmingly frightening and I could see what was happening to her. After the inquest I’m on my knees, I’m absolutely exhausted.”
Differences in the mum’s first two post-mortem examinations and a third as Rebecca was planning the funeral meant she was “left unable to safely and confidently have a cremation” as “if a third pathologist needed to view the body, it would be gone”. That caused a lot of distress not only for Rebecca but for her family as well.
“Socially it’s really unacceptable and people put an awful lot of pressure to hurry up and have a funeral,” she said. “I had to resist a lot of emotional pressure from other family members. I knew I was doing the right thing, but it’s very difficult emotionally.”
Discredited pathologist Dr Michael Heath conducted the first and third examinations, whom, in 2009, the General Medical Council (GMC) found guilty of serious misconduct, but ruled his fitness to practise was not impaired. Previous questions have been asked by bereaved families over the reliability of his evidence which has led to two murder convictions being quashed.
During Deirdre’s inquest, a fellow pathologist heavily criticised Dr Heath’s 30-minute autopsy which gave a cause of death as acute kidney injury.
Dr Elizabeth Soilleux independently carried out an examination at Rebecca’s request and blasted his findings as “negligent” after her autopsy instead found she died of intestinal haemorrhage and aspiration pneumonia. But Dr Heath defended himself during the hearing and argued the weight of her lungs showed pneumonia had not played a part in her death.
It has only been in the last few weeks that Rebecca has finally been able to start organising her “remarkable” mum’s cremation following the conclusion of that inquest where Surrey assistant coroner Anna Loxton ruled on the balance of probability that she had died due to aspiration pneumonia.
Rebecca described her mother as someone who was “loved” by her pupils, intelligent, witty and “didn’t suffer fools”. Also a key member of Surrey’s classical music scene, she said her mum did not receive the respect needed given her achievements.
“She was truly a remarkable person who gave a lot to Surrey life,” said Rebecca. “And she deserved to have been treated with compassion and respect. She was brave, she lived with chronic pain and always had a smile on her face despite having arthritis and other complications with her back.”
Deirdre taught piano, flute, clarinet and saxophone between 1978 and 2000, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and screenwriter Chris Lang among her former students. She was also chairman of the Leith Hill Music Festival between 1991 and 2005 at a time when it was rare for women to be in similar positions.
A memorial service dedicated to her life will be held at St Mary’s Church in Reigate on October 10 where many former pupils and colleagues will be attending. Rebecca called her mother a unique person.
“It’s really difficult for women to get into positions like that,” she added. “She qualified as a musician in the 1950s when women were not even allowed to play in professional orchestras. My mum made a career for herself as a woman in a man’s world and she’s the only female chairman the Leith Hill Festival has ever had.
“She was a formidable authority and her achievements were huge. She was incredible and I guess that’s why I have the energy to fight for her because I know just how much she fought through the day.”
A spokesperson for the Surrey coroner’s office said: “The Coroner and the county council offer their sincere condolences to the family of the late Mrs Hicks. Mrs Hicks’s body was released from the Coroner’s jurisdiction to the family on February 16, 2021, and therefore we are unable to comment on what happened thereafter.”