Fighting for Harry: pro bono in action

29834

The Harry Richford story and pro bono collaboration that led to the first prosecution of its kind for unsafe clinical care. By Lisa Naylor


Harry Richford was born on 2 November 2017 at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital in Margate, Kent. He died seven days later. A series of catastrophic failures both during labour and after his birth led to him being so severely brain damaged that his family was advised to switch off his life support.

Despite resistance from the hospital, Harry’s parents Tom and Sarah Richford, and his grandparents, pushed for a coroner’s inquiry into how the actions of the doctors and midwives resulted in Harry being so badly harmed. The hospital consistently refused to inform the coroner, and it was only after the Richfords contacted him directly that Harry’s death was notified. The NHS Trust to which the hospital belongs had lawyers to represent it at the inquest, but the Richford family faced presenting their side of the terrible events alone.

Unable to pay for the specialist legal help they needed to see justice done for Harry, Tom and his father Derek went to see their local MP, Sir Roger Gale, who immediately recognised the urgency of their situation. He said: ‘I felt they needed legal representation at the inquest, which is not necessarily something you’d normally have. But this case was so difficult and so sensitive, I felt that they needed a helping hand. And oh, my God, they got it.’

Mr Gale referred the Richford family to Advocate to see if we could secure barrister representation for them during the inquest. All applications are reviewed by a senior barrister before they are approved and, in this instance, the papers went to Victoria Wakefield QC at Brick Court. Ms Wakefield immediately recognised the significance of the case and found two barristers in her own chambers, Jennifer MacLeod and Emma Mockford, who agreed to help.

Due to the level of administrative support needed to carry out the inquest, Brick Court used a scheme run by LawWorks called Pro Bono Connect to partner with a firm of solicitors willing to help with the mammoth task of preparing all the necessary paperwork. City firm Arnold & Porter came forward to offer their resources and the team was complete.

Recalling the painful events, Sarah and Tom explained how they instantly felt safe, saying: ‘The legal team were incredible. They explained the whole situation so clearly and offered us every opportunity to be a significant part of the process. They could not have been more professional or had more empathy, which is something we will never be able to express enough gratitude for. Throughout the case they showed they cared deeply about us, about Harry and wanted justice for us, as well as to expose the unfairness of the systems we were facing.’

Thanks to the family’s dogged pursuit of the truth and their desperate desire to bring some peace and closure to Sarah and Tom, by the time the inquest was conducted in January 2020, the Richfords had amassed over 4,000 pages of information and statements. Harry’s grandfather, Derek, remembers feeling overwhelmed at the start, saying: ‘Can you imagine that as a family, we were up against what ended up being a three-week inquest with 4,000 pages of information and we were expected to represent ourselves. The doctors testifying at the inquest all had lawyers representing them, the NHS Trust had the head of medical negligence for Clyde and Co and supposedly, we were to have nothing. How could we have managed on our own?’

On the morning of the second day of the inquest, the NHS Trust dropped 1,400 pages of new evidence on the Richfords. Without the resources of a large firm of solicitors behind them and barristers to handle the inquest, the Richfords said they would have been ‘emotionally broken’ by such a move. But the legal team sprang into action, the paperwork was processed, sorted, copied and they were asking questions on it by that afternoon.

After a gruelling three weeks, the coroner, barrister Christopher Sutton-Mattocks reached a finding that Harry’s death was contributed to by neglect, logging seven separate incidents where proper care was not provided and serving the East Kent NHS Trust with a set of 19 concerns, with recommendations as a Prevention of Future Deaths report.

The Richford family felt hugely relieved and Tom said: ‘It’s astonishing to me that you can have a public body, like an NHS Trust that can have all of the public funds they need spent on defending their indefensible behaviour and as an individual, you can’t have anything. Our legal team gave us an opportunity for justice and closure, and at the end of the day they are the two key things that matter to us all.’

Jennifer MacLeod, one of the barristers at Brick Court said: ‘It was an honour and a privilege to work with the Richford family and the rest of the legal team on this case, and to assist with the family’s search for transparency and accountability after the tragic loss of baby Harry. It was an experience that I will never forget.’

On 9 October 2020, the Care Quality Commission announced it would be criminally prosecuting the Trust on two counts of unsafe care and treatment; one for Sarah and one for Harry. This is the first prosecution of its kind for unsafe clinical care.

A look ahead to Pro Bono Week 2020

Mary Dobson

The overarching theme of Pro Bono Week 2020 is ‘Pro bono: Through the pandemic and beyond’. There are countless examples of lawyers who took on pro bono work this year; from those stepping up their contribution to those new to pro bono, moved (and able) to make a contribution. We’ve captured a few examples below, and hope you’ll be inspired to attend some of Pro Bono Week’s events, to find out more about what’s going on and to get involved.

Toynbee Hall’s Free Legal Advice Centre

From the beginning of lockdown the Toynbee Hall team, with the support of many pro bono lawyers, took their Free Legal Advice Centre online. With a surge in family, housing, employment and immigration cases, they offered webinars, online guides, online triage and remote advice. Through the pandemic they’ve given remote advice on over 600 matters, with new collaborations meaning more people accessing their help.

Law firms collaborate to help NHS Heroes

A group of law firms came together to support a not-for-profit organisation set up by NHS workers. HEROES offers assistance to health workers in a variety of ways, including securing funding for 3-D printers to make PPE; putting together a scheme of vouchers and discounts for NHS staff; and funding grants to medical staff who are dealing with increased costs as a direct consequence of COVID-19. Within 48 hours firms including Gibson Dunn, Slaughter & May, Linklaters and Wrigleys Solicitors came together to work collaboratively, between them covering coordination, corporate structuring, charity law, IP and data privacy. Valerie Kemp (Corporate Associate, Slaughter & May) said: ‘Working with other firms on a pro bono basis has been very rewarding, particularly as we have been able to use our legal skills to support the frontline NHS workers who are keeping us all safe at this time. Simply put, none of the firms would have been able to meet HEROES’ needs on its own. It’s only by working together that we able to do what we have done, in such a short period of time.’

Domestic violence pro bono work during lockdown; Zimran Samuel

As the lockdown continued, and as calls to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline rose, Zimran Samuel, Doughty Street Chambers, decided to work wholly pro bono for domestic abuse and violence cases for the remainder of lockdown. From 10 April to 22 June, Zimran worked in collaboration with Advocate who assisted with the overspill of cases. He came across a myriad of different clients, most needing advice or urgent representation in applying for injunctive protection of some form. He says: ‘Strangely, some of those I came to represent were the same people I had been clapping for every Thursday. This included a senior nurse facing physical violence at the end of a busy shift and a care home worker dealing with sexual violence at home.’ 

Remote working meant he could take on cases all over the country; appearing in the Family Court in Wigan in the morning and being back in the Family Division by noon. Reflecting, Zimran says: ‘Taking on domestic violence and abuse cases during this crisis was one of the most rewarding things I will ever have the opportunity to do.’

 
Events currently listed include:
 
Monday 2 November: Talk from FLBA (Advocate & Zimran Samuel), 5pm; Launch event panel debate with Catherine Baksi (chair) and speakers from the four UK nations including LJ Stephens, networking after, 6pm.
Tuesday 3 November: Scotland Legal Roundtable – TrustLaw, 12.30pm; The use of technology in pro bono – IBA Pro Bono Committee, 4pm; A Celebration of International Pro Bono – A4ID, 6pm.
Wednesday 4 November: Temple Church Evensong (in person & online) with address from Michael Napier QC, 5.45pm; Giving back to move forward – MTYBA, JLSLA, LYLG, 6pm; Bar Pro Bono Awards – Advocate, 6.30pm.
Thursday 5 November: Go the Extra Mile for Justice day – ATJF; Clerks’ Pro Bono Hour – Advocate, IBC & ABC Chambers Solutions, 11am; The Big Hack – The Chancery Lane Project, 48 hrs from midday; Celebrating Pro Bono in Bristol – Bristol Pro Bono Group, 5pm; ELIPS & CLIPS duty schemes, 5.30pm
 
See all the events at: www.probonoweek.org.uk/events. Volunteer at: www.probonoweek.org.uk/volunteering
Issue: 
Author details: 
Lisa Naylor

Lisa Naylor is Advocate’s Communications Manager.

Mary Dobson

Mary Dobson worked with Advocate (formerly the Bar Pro Bono Unit) from 2016-2019, latterly as its Joint Chief Operating Officer & Head of Fundraising and Communications: weareadvocate.org.uk