UK inquest outcome a ‘huge relief’ for sister of missing body parts victim
The sister of missing body parts victim Norman Palmer has described the outcome of a British inquest into his death as a “huge relief” for his family.
But Marion Bishop told The Royal Gazette that the fight to get justice for her late brother was far from over and she planned to consult a lawyer about what to do next.
“We are going to take legal advice to see where we can go from here,” she said. “It's not over. It might be over for my brother because he's dead and it might be over for the [Bermuda] Hospitals Board and everybody else involved, but until we know what happened to my brother and we know what happened to his body parts, it will never be over for us.”
Mr Palmer, who ran his own excavating business, died in April 2008 after he got into breathing difficulties at his Paget home and was taken to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital by ambulance.
His family claimed that, on an earlier visit to the hospital, doctors failed to warn him that his condition was life-threatening and that he should seek medical attention as soon as possible. They also criticised his GP, the ambulance crew who attended his home and the emergency room doctors who tried to save his life.
Coroner Khamisi Tokunbo ruled in 2009 that the 57-year-old helped bring about his own death due to self-neglect, a verdict which devastated Ms Bishop, sister Heather Carberry and Mr Palmer's widow Kathleen.
They were relieved when, after an inquest held in England in August, East Somerset Coroner Tony Williams rejected that opinion and recorded a narrative verdict.
He found that Mr Palmer sought and took medical advice, adding: “Self-neglect should only be recorded when there is a gross failure to obtain basic medical attention. Mr Palmer was taking medical advice and following the advice of his doctor.”
Businesswoman Ms Bishop, who lives in Bermuda, said of the latest verdict: “It exonerated Norman but, then, who is responsible? Here, they blamed Norman, which is ridiculous at best. But who is responsible now?
“Anyone that knew Norman would tell you Norm loved his life. Saying that [made it sound like] Norm was responsible. [Mr Tokunbo's verdict was] like saying someone committed suicide.”
After Mr Palmer's body was repatriated to the UK, many of his body parts, including his brain, spleen, a kidney and throat, were found to be missing, sparking international headlines.
Ms Bishop said the British inquest allowed discussion about the body parts, a topic which was off-limits at the inquest here.
“It was respectful. We could ask questions if we needed to. We were allowed to bring up about the body parts. Here that was a no-no.”
She said there was “no comparison” between the two inquests, claiming: “It would behove coroners here to go to a coroner's court in another country to see how it is done.”
Mr Williams, according to a report in the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, said he was unable to include the details of Mr Palmer's missing organs in his formal conclusion.
“I am satisfied that these body parts would have been removed in Bermuda because of the lack of the Human Tissue Act,” the Mail reported him as saying.
“That meant the family were not advised of the removal and it only came to light as a result of further examination in this country.
“I have to say it is not uncommon for bodies to be returned to this country with body parts missing.”
Ms Bishop said the harrowing mystery of what happened to her brother's body parts still haunted her and her sister and they had no intention of giving up their search for them.
“Of course, we haven't decided what we are going to do going forward now that this decision has been made in the UK, but it doesn't alter the fact: where are my brother's body parts? Where are they?
“Where is the paper trail of what happened to Norm? There is no paper trail in that hospital from the moment my brother died. We are going to speak to a lawyer.”
She said “disgusting” claims had been posted online that Mr Palmer's family hoped to make money from their complaint about the body parts, adding that nothing could be further from the truth.
“I miss my brother every single day,” added Ms Bishop. “There is one thing when someone you love dies of a heart attack or natural causes you can move forward. But this, it's different. Someone needs to be held accountable for all of this stuff but I doubt they ever will be, because of the way Bermuda is.”
Despite that, she has no intention of leaving, though Mr Palmer's widow has returned permanently to the UK. “I have lots of memories with my brother here; I have my business,” said Ms Bishop.
A Bermuda Police Service investigation into the body parts found no evidence of wrongdoing but recommended that the Island consider introducing regulations about permission for retaining body parts.
Bermuda Hospitals Board declined to comment for this article but referred us to past statements, including one from a spokeswoman in August, who said the missing organs “were not retained by BHB”.
She said: “As we have previously stated, in accordance with regulations, a small number of tissue samples were initially retained with the approval of the coroner's officer to ascertain cause of death, but the organs were returned with the deceased to the funeral home in line with BHB's policy.
“We have every sympathy for the family of Mr Palmer. We have already given detailed evidence in a public court about this matter, at which time our physicians, emergency staff and pathologist were extensively questioned. The facts show that our staff acted entirely appropriately.”