Radio Ombudsman: Will Powell’s 32-year quest for justice for son Robbie

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

My latest guest on Radio Ombudsman is Will Powell, the father of Robbie Powell, who sadly died of Addison’s Disease 32 years ago when he was just 10 years old.

Following Robbie’s death it became apparent that Addison’s Disease had been suspected and, without Will’s knowledge, a test to confirm this diagnosis had been requested but not completed.

Thirteen days after Robbie's death Will made a formal complaint to the NHS, which was inadequately investigated and not concluded. In 1996 the health authority admitted liability for failing to diagnose Robbie’s Addison’s Disease. Will has been campaigning for justice ever since – both for Robbie, and for other parents in a similar position.

In the years following, Will's civil claim for post-death psychological damage failed. The UK Courts and European Court of Human Rights ruled that doctors had no post-death legal duty to tell bereaved parents the truth. This led Will to be instrumental in the introduction of a formal duty of candour which sets out specific requirements for openness and transparency when things go wrong with care and treatment.

Will is determined to find out the truth about what happened to Robbie and is calling for an independent public inquiry into his death. I continue to support Will’s call for this and in 2018 I presented oral evidence to that end to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee (PACAC) in the UK Parliament.

The consensus from the Committee was that “there remains a need for [historic cases] to be addressed, both in the interests of the families involved and in ensuring that any safety lessons that can still be learnt are”. On the 6 January 2022 I provided written submissions about Robbie's case to the Chairman of PACAC.

A strong case for a public inquiry

Together and separately both the former Welsh Public Services Ombudsman Nick Bennett (now succeeded by Michelle Morris) and I have also raised the issue with relevant Ministers, Select Committees, Politicians, in public meetings and the media. However, Welsh and English Ministers have asserted that all lessons have been learnt, even though it has been recognised, by many, that current guidance for public inquiries is outdated and unclear.

My understanding of the issues surrounding Robbie’s death suggests that there is an extraordinarily strong case for a public inquiry into what went wrong. The range of unsatisfactory circumstances is wide and includes:

  • the original handling of the case, with the extreme reluctance of clinicians to give an account of what happened
  • inadequate investigations by a number of public bodies, with allegations that crucial documents were tampered with
  • very serious evidenced allegations of police corruption and conflicts of interest in investigating wrongdoing
  • the added complication of a Welsh-based case being overseen by United Kingdom processes notwithstanding Robbie died at a time when England and Wales were jointly under the jurisdiction of the NHS.

Making sure mistakes are not repeated

In my view, a focused inquiry could cast public light on these circumstances and provide genuine learning to make sure that they are not repeated.

Nobody listening to Robbie’s story can be other than appalled by what has happened, and in awe of his father’s steadfastness to keep this campaign for justice going some 32 years on.

I would like to thank Will for sharing his painful story yet again. I hope this podcast will help keep up the momentum needed so that Will gets to present his evidence in a public inquiry.

Listen to my interview with Will below. You can also read or download a pdf of the transcript (PDF 195 KB) or listen and subscribe to the podcast on SoundCloudiTunes or Spotify.