NHS trust and anaesthetist cleared over Caesarean mother's death


An NHS trust and an anaesthetist on trial over the death of a mother hours after giving birth to her second son have been cleared after the landmark case against them collapsed.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was accused of corporate manslaughter over the death of schoolteacher Frances Cappuccini, 30, in the first prosecution of a health service body since the offence was introduced in 2008.

Locum consultant anaesthetist Errol Cornish, 68, was accused of gross negligence manslaughter over his role in the care of the mother of two, who died after postnatal surgery at Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Pembury, Kent, in October 2012.

But judge Mr Justice Coulson instructed the jury at Inner London Crown Court to acquit both defendants on Thursday, just over two weeks into their trial, having ruled on Wednesday that they had no case to answer.

In his ruling, which can be reported for the first time today, he praised the Cappuccini family's "dignity" during the trial and said: "There is no question that Frances Cappuccini should not have died at the trust hospital on October 9.

"It's inevitable that her family will want to know why she died and hold someone to account."

But the judge outlined a series of flaws in the prosecution case, including evidence that showed some of locum Dr Cornish's actions had been "about as far from a gross negligence manslaughter case as it is possible to be". He also described some of the arguments against the trust as "perverse".

The taxpayer could face a bill running into hundreds of thousands of pounds after lawyers for Dr Cornish and the trust indicated they may seek to have the Crown Prosecution Service pay their legal costs.

In a statement the trust board said: "The allegation of corporate manslaughter has been consistently denied by the trust and now also comprehensively rejected by the court.

"The trust regrets that the Crown Prosecution Service saw fit to pursue the charge in the first place, given the additional stress this will have caused all involved."

Mrs Cappuccini's widower Tom, who was in court throughout the trial, was not present as the jury of 10 women and two men returned formal not guilty verdicts.

Mrs Cappuccini lost more than two litres (around four pints) of blood after her second son Giacomo was born by Caesarean section at the hospital in Kent.

She was subsequently operated on for a postpartum haemorrhage, but never woke up from the anaesthetic.

She went into cardiac arrest just over three hours after the operation had finished on October 9 2012, and died at 4.20pm.

The trial heard that a second anaesthetist, Dr Nadeem Azeez, 53, was primarily responsible for Mrs Cappuccini's care, but did not face a trial alongside them because he had returned to his native Pakistan.

The prosecution had claimed that errors by both men had contributed to her death. It also alleged that the trust had failed in its duty of care by employing them, making allegations about their qualification and the way they were hired.

But the judge said there was no evidence presented to the jury to support these claims.

In a statement released through the Medical Protection Society, Dr Cornish said: "I am relieved with the court's verdict. I would like to thank my family, friends, legal team and all those who supported me through this difficult time."

His lawyer Ian Stern QC had earlier told the court Dr Cornish's professionalism had been in the spotlight during extensive media coverage of the case.

He highlighted the fact that the judge ruled Dr Cornish did not breach his duty of care, and referenced the medic's "extremely impressive career", including working under heart transplant pioneer Dr Christiaan Barnard in South Africa.

Mr Stern also pointed out that "at the time he left Frances Cappuccini after his short involvement there was no evidence to support the prosecution assertion that she was dying".

A CPS spokeswoman said it had decided not to appeal against the judge's ruling, adding: "We appreciate that Mrs Cappuccini's family will be understandably upset by this outcome, but we respect the decision made by the judge that there was insufficient evidence to continue with the trial."