Optometrist Honey Rose has received a sentence of two years imprisonment suspended for two years, following a conviction of gross negligence manslaughter.
Ms Rose was told by the court that she would be required to do 200 hours of unpaid work in the community, and will be under probation supervision for 24 months.
Ms Rose stood trial accused over the unlawful death of Vincent – “Vinnie” – Barker. The eight-year-old died in July 2012 after fluid built up in his brain. Five months earlier he attended an eye examination performed by Ms Rose, who was working as a locum at a Boots’ practice in Ipswich.
It took the jury one day to return a guilty verdict.
Addressing the court, Justice Stuart-Smith said: “The jury’s verdict convicted you of a breach of duty that is so serious as to be criminal. And, having regard to the full tragedy of the outcome, I am satisfied that a sentence of imprisonment is the only possible sentence that I can impose.
“The much more difficult question is whether that sentence must be served immediately or can be suspended. Taking into account the various factors, including both the seriousness of the offence and the very powerful mitigation that is available to you, I have reached the conclusion that it would not be merely unnecessary but wrong to impose an immediate custodial sentence.”
"Your conviction has been highly publicised and there is evidence before the Court that it has been of extreme interest and concern to the profession. It is therefore not necessary to impose an immediate custodial sentence in order to bring home to others the importance of optometrists properly discharging their duty to their patients."
Highlighting mitigating factors, he said: “Your conviction has been highly publicised and there is evidence before the Court that it has been of extreme interest and concern to the profession. It is therefore not necessary to impose an immediate custodial sentence in order to bring home to others the importance of optometrists properly discharging their duty to their patients.
“There is no risk that you will reoffend and so no question of protecting the public from you in the future. Whether you ever practice again is a matter for your professional body but, as I have said, it seems clear that you will not be practising for some time, if ever. I make it clear that it is not for this Court to determine questions of professional practice for the future and I do not intend to do so.”
The judge added: “You are a woman of previous good character, not just in that you have no previous convictions or findings against you, but in being in every sense a good person and citizen… You have worked diligently for years, conducting examinations such as Vinnie’s, day-in day-out without criticism or complaint. Character references from those who know you well speak of your devotion to your profession.
“I accept that you are deeply remorseful, even if you are having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that you have been found guilty. To my mind it is a genuine mark of true remorse that you remember Vinnie in your thoughts and prayers regularly and especially on the anniversary of his untimely death.”
“Perhaps most importantly, an immediate custodial sentence will not bring back Vinnie. The Barkers’ grief is profound and lasting, but I am not convinced it requires the imposition of an immediate custodial sentence. In a final gesture, of great dignity, I have been informed that the Barker family are mindful of the potential harmful effects that an immediate custodial sentence would have on your children and are anxious that no more suffering should be caused by the sentencing process than is absolutely necessary,” he said.
During the two-week trial at Ipswich crown court, the jury heard the prosecution argue that Ms Rose breached her duty as an optometrist in failing to carry out an appropriate eye examination on Vincent Barker, and that this conduct was “something truly so exceptionally bad and, in the circumstances, gave rise to a serious and obvious risk of death,” to constitute the manslaughter charge.
Prosecutor Johnathan Rees QC told the jury that Ms Rose’s failure to detect a swelling in Vincent Barker’s optic disc and her failure to refer him for further tests was “grossly negligent on her part.”
He added that her conduct as an optometrist “fell so far below the standard to be expected that it was criminal in nature. Of course we can all make mistakes and errors of judgment in our professional lives. They can even involve the breach of a duty of care we owe to another. We are not talking about a mistake that merits a ticking off from the boss or even sanction from the regulatory body. We are talking about something so bad that it amounts to a criminal offence.”
Mr Rees highlighted the “implausibility” of Ms Rose’s account of events, challenging the “coincidences” taken together leading up to the defendant being unable to see the optic discs.
He told the jury: “There is a developing theme in [Ms Rose’s] account and it is one of shifting blame away from herself to others who she says didn’t get things sorted… Ms Rose is quick to blame others when accounting for what is her failure.”
Responding to the case, an AOP spokesperson confirmed that a leave of appeal is being sought by Ms Rose. Due to the ongoing Fitness to Practise hearing that Ms Rose faces before the General Optical Council, the Association said that it is unable to comment further on the case at this time.
Setting out the grounds for a suspended sentence, the Sentencing Council states on its website that a suspended sentence “means that the offender does not go to prison immediately, but is given the chance to stay out of trouble and to comply with the requirements set by the court.”
In response to the conviction of Ms Rose in July, a petition was launched to address the use of ‘gross negligence manslaughter’ in cases against healthcare workers.
OT’s report from the two-week trial is available online.