Mother's anguish after police admit they kept her dead son's brain in storage for 13 years
Rhys Cheevers' brain was held at Southampton General Hospital after he died just two days oldHis mother Hannah says two police officers knocked on her door 'totally out of the blue' with the news
12:01 GMT, 22 February 2013
02:51 GMT, 23 February 2013
A mother has told of her agony when she discovered police kept her baby’s brain for 13 years.
Hannah Cheevers’s son Rhys died of a heart defect two days after he was born in 1998 and his family gave consent for a post-mortem examination.
They were not told that police had kept his brain at Southampton General Hospital until two officers recently knocked on her door to inform her.
Hannah Cheevers said two officers knocked on her door 'totally out of the blue' to admit that her son's brain had been held at Southampton General Hospital for 13 years
Baby Rhys died when he was just two days old and his family gave consent for a post-mortem examination to take place – but they 'assumed he had been buried in tact'
Her son is one of 89 children whose
body parts were kept by police, according to an Association of Chief
Police Officers (ACPO) audit.
Last year, the research showed police forces across the country held almost 500 body parts dating back about 50 years.
The storage of child body parts echoes
the scandal at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital, where organs from nearly
3,000 youngsters were ‘harvested’ and kept without consent in the early
Miss Cheevers, 35, said: ‘We had his
funeral, we got on with our lives as you have to and 13 years later we
have a knock on the door from the Dorset police to inform us that his
brain has been retained at Southampton hospital.’
She said she ‘did not know really how
to take it’ and added: ‘We assumed he had been buried intact. We had
absolutely no idea that they had kept his brain.’
Police told the mother-of-five from Wimborne, Dorset, that Rhys’s brain had been kept in storage, but could not tell her why.
Police could not explain to Mrs Cheevers why her son's brain had been kept in storage at Southampton General for so long
She said: ‘They told us tissue from Rhys had been retained. I thought they meant a sliver of tissue on a slide.
‘Then they said it was his whole
brain. I was shocked. I was never told about this and if they had asked
my permission I would have said “no”.
‘They wouldn’t tell me why it had been
kept and they said nothing had been done to it. It was dreadful. I had a
new baby in my arms and it brought it all back.’
Parents: Where's our explanation
Parents of children whose body parts were stored at Southampton General are desperate for an explanation.
The hospital has said it acted only as a ‘storage facility’ for Dorset police, the Home Office or the coroner.
After post-mortem examinations in criminal cases, body parts are often stored until trial dates are set.
There was no criminal element to these cases, but most of the babies did have post-mortem examinations.
A hospital spokesman said: ‘There is no wrongdoing on behalf of the hospital trust.’
Miss Cheevers said her family had now
decided to donate Rhys’s brain to hospital research after being told
other options were to have it destroyed or buried with his body. She
added: ‘I didn’t want another funeral. I’ve got other children now. It’s
a difficult thing to talk about and I didn’t want to have to explain to
my young children why we had to have a funeral.
‘And I didn’t really want him dug up to have his brain put with him.
‘I just don’t like the thought of having a child dug up after they have been buried for 13 years.’
Southampton General Hospital said that
after post-mortem examinations, the coroner or forensic officers may
ask for organs to be retained in case they are needed for further
investigation. The hospital said it holds specimens until the police or
coroner give further instructions.
The cases were uncovered in an ACPO audit as a result of new, stricter laws on storing human tissue and organs.
Police forces nationwide have been ordered to draw up lists of all post-mortem samples kept in storage.