Optometrist Honey Rose has been found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter following the death of an eight-year-old boy. The verdict comes after a nine-day hearing at Ipswich Crown Court.
Vincent – “Vinnie” – Barker died in July 2012 after fluid built up in his brain. Five months earlier he attended an eye examination performed by Ms Rose.
Sentencing has been adjourned for four weeks, with Ms Rose’s bail extended in the interim period.
On learning the verdict, a spokesperson for the AOP said: "This is a tragic case which is devastating for all concerned and our sympathies go to the Barker family at this time. We are naturally extremely disappointed for our member, Ms Rose, in the outcome of the case."
They added: "The case, a criminal one involving an optometrist on clinical matters, is the first of its kind in the UK. There are millions of sight tests undertaken in the UK each year. Optometrists adhere to strict standards of practice set out by the regulatory body, the General Optical Council.
"We are aware that Ms Rose is currently before the GOC in a Fitness to Practise hearing and as a result we are unable to comment further at this time."
Speaking outside of the court, Vinnie's parents, Ian and Joanna Barker, said: “The outcome of this case does not change our life sentence. We will never be able to fully accept that our special little boy is never coming home. The void left in our lives will never heal and the ripple effect to those around us is immense.”
They added: “As parents the distress of witnessing your child’s life from start to end in just eight short years is excruciatingly hard and nonsensical. The decision of a jury or judge cannot bring Vinnie back or undo the devastation of his death. A guilty verdict would never make us winners, our loss is simply too great.
“Our main concern has always been the accountability of those we entrust with our own health and the health of those we love. It is the responsibility of individuals and the organisation they work for to perform their duties to the expected levels of good practice without exception. The actions of professionals, or their failure to act to a standard at which they are required to perform, should not go without consequence.
“Our intention is not to damage the reputation of optometrists, but actually to raise awareness and promote the health benefits and value of good optometry. Because, we believe without doubt, that if our son had received the duty of care he was owed on 15 February 2012, he would still be with us today.”
Extending its deepest sympathies to the family following the conviction, the GOC confirmed to OT that it was unable to comment further on the case because Ms Rose “remains suspended from practising under a GOC interim suspension order.”
“Until our fitness to practise process is complete, we are not able to comment on the case,” a spokesperson added.
Also responding to the case, a statement released by the College of Optometrists said: "The College of Optometrists wishes to extend its deepest sympathies to the family of Vincent Barker. We understand that no outcome from these proceedings could bring any consolation to the family for their loss.
It added: "Optometrists play an important role safeguarding the nation’s eye health. The GOC sets standards for optometrists and the College of Optometrists supports the profession in meeting these standards.
"Optometrists are trained professionals whose first duty of care is the eye health of their patients. They examine eyes, test sight, give advice on visual problems and prescribe and dispense glasses or contact lenses. They also recommend treatments when appropriate and can use or supply various eye drugs. Optometrists are trained to recognise eye disease and abnormality, including papilloedema (swelling of the optic nerves), and to refer such cases to other specialists as necessary."
Ms Rose was locuming at Boots Opticians in Upper Brook Street, Ipswich when she performed Vinnie's sight test. Managing director of Boots Opticians, Ben Fletcher, told OT today: "We offer our deepest condolences to Vincent Barker’s family. Our thoughts throughout this difficult period remain with the family following these tragic events."
During day six of the trial (11 July) when Ms Rose was presented with a retinal image of the left eye of Vinnie from 2012 she said: “[It] is not the image that I saw on 15 February 2012. That is because, if I did see the image on 15 February, I would have referred him straight away to the hospital because the disc is not clear at all – the point where the vessels start from, the surrounding circular area, there is no demarcation. The optical disc is completely swollen and blurry in this case, and the vessels are all distorted. And there is no cup-to-disc ratio either. That could never be described by me as 0.5.”
Setting out the route to a verdict on Wednesday (13 July), the judge said that the jury must, firstly, be sure Ms Rose breached her duty. They must then consider the nature of the breach and whether they are sure, in all the circumstances, that the conduct of Ms Rose was “something truly so exceptionally bad and in the circumstances gave rise to a serious and obvious risk of death… was in your judgement enough to amount to the very serious crime of manslaughter.”
During the closing speeches from the prosecution on the same day, Johnathan Rees QC addressed the jury about the inherent implausibility of Ms Rose’s account of events. He challenged the “coincidences” taken together leading up to the defendant being unable to see the optic discs.
He suggested to the jury that these were convenient excuses to explain what she knew was a blatant breach, where the fault was entirely hers.
For the defence, Ian Stern QC concentrated on the context of other examinations performed by Ms Rose on that day.
He told the jury: “We say that the evidence in this case does not get anywhere near the level where you could be sure. What you have is probability and scorn replacing actual evidence. When you stand back, what is the actual evidence that you have?”