‘We have lost all faith in the justice system’ – Vinnie Barker’s family respond to final court ruling in Honey Rose case

Vinnie Barker

Vinnie Barker - Credit: Archant

Vinnie Barker’s family have responded to the news that optometrist Honey Rose’s quashed manslaughter conviction will stand. Read the family’s full statement here.

Vinnie Barker

Vinnie Barker - Credit: Archant

We are hugely disappointed, confused and further disillusioned by the decision of the courts to dismiss the application of the Crown Prosecution to appeal.

We have lost all faith in a justice system we believed could fairly distinguish guilt and innocence.

The Crown Prosecution were able to bring charges against optometrist Honey Rose because her statutory duty of care was so clear. It was equally as transparent that duty had been breached ‘for no good reason’. There was no evidence that she had not been able or had not performed a full internal examination of our son’s eyes. The fact she discharged our son with ‘normal’ records was an instrumental factor in her conviction. It is only that the breach itself and what was expected of the reasonably competent optometrist was so clear, that both the charge and conviction were established.

During the trial the experts and the defendant Honey Rose agreed that the swollen optic nerves would have been apparent to any competent optometrist during an a full examination of the eye and/or from the retinal images. This would have given rise to

a ‘serious obvious risk of death’ that would have triggered an emergency referral. The failure of Honey Rose to look at our son’s images or conduct a full internal examination devastatingly resulted in Vinnie never receiving the life saving surgery he urgently needed.

The jury found Honey Rose unanimously guilty, the Crown Court ruled, “It was reasonably foreseeable that her breach of duty gave rise to a serious obvious risk of death”. The judge noted that ‘The optometrist that is so negligent that she does not even attempt an internal investigation of the eye cannot rely on that breach of duty to escape liability’.

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On the 31 July 2017 the Court of Appeal quashed that conviction and essentially ruled that ‘it is not appropriate to take into account what the defendant would have known but for his or her breach of duty’.

The Crown invited the Court of Appeal to certify that a point of law of general public importance is involved in its decision in the following terms:

“In cases of manslaughter by gross negligence, and in assessing the reasonable foreseeability of a serious and obvious risk of death, is it ever appropriate in any case to take into account what a reasonable person in the position of the defendant would have known, but for his or her breach of duty?”

The courts have declined to certify this point. The refusal has a far wider impact than just our son’s case. The decisions of the courts, we feel, further blurs the criminal benchmark for professional cases of negligence, medical or otherwise, that result in death.

Heartbreakingly for us that means our little boy’s case now allows individuals to be less accountable and eradicates the gravity of the message to healthcare practitioners and other professionals; ‘that clear breaches of their duty of care, that contribute to death could result in a conviction of Gross Negligence Manslaughter’.

The legal outcome could never heal our pain or the void in our lives, or undo the senseless and preventable loss of a beautiful young boy who had his whole life ahead of him. Our main focus was always the accountability of those we entrust with our own health and the health and of those we love.

Sadly we have no option but to accept both the final ruling of the courts and that

Vinnie’s case will undoubtedly be used to defend future cases of gross negligence rather than help prevent it.

We have fully supported the work of the Crown Prosecution during our son’s case and are continuously gratefully for the support and effort of Suffolk Constabulary. We will now keep in close contact we the GOC to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to prevent Honey Rose from ever being able to return to the practice of optometry.

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