[For a summary of the medical facts of this case, and an indication of how our passive acceptance of the ECHR is a basis for our acceptance of the European Arrest Warrant, please go here, and for reading Part 1 published yesterday, please go here.]

 

Details of the case

 

The victim in this case was Mrs Cicely Sybil Alexandra Dick-Erikson (née C.S.A. Abercromby Dick), a British novelist, who during her lifetime published around 30 titles, under the names Alexandra Dick and Frances Hay, as well as a translation from the Swedish of the Nobel Prize-winning “The Dwarf” by Per Lagerqvist. Some of her life and work is related on this website, compiled by a reader of her books.

Her work was mostly in two genres: detective stories, and historical novels set in the time of the French Revolution. She also trained as an opera singer and sang with the French Opéra Comique before the War. It is ironic that in her detective stories the culprit is always identified; and that one of her forebears was the man who led the Jack the Ripper enquiries for Scotland Yard, Sir Melville Macnaghten. 

She went to live in Florence in 1964, and was present at the time of the disastrous flood of 1966 which swept the city. Her own flat was not flooded, but she worked tirelessly on behalf of the flood victims with a committee chaired by the British consul Christopher Pirie-Gordon, and was awarded a medal by the local authorities for her efforts.  

One day in late 1989 she complained of abdominal pain and called her GP. She spoke to the doctor over the telephone and described her symptoms to him in Italian. Her Italian was good, but not perfect and she most probably used the Italian word for “stomach” (she was thinking of her “tummy”) to describe the pain, when the swelling was in her lower abdomen, but she did not know the Italian word for “belly”. The doctor did not come to visit her in person (she was by then living in the country outside Florence, some four kilometres from the nearest bus-stop); he relied on her self-description and left her an evidently erroneous prescription, to be picked up at the local chemist, for an X-ray.

She then went to the local hospital for the X-ray, where she was given a double dose of barium and her stomach was X-rayed  She felt very ill during the examination, but was discharged and sent home. She had walked into the hospital, but had to be pushed out in a wheel-chair. The hospital orderly pushing the chair said to her home-help, who was with her and going to drive her home, “This one hasn’t got long to live”. The next day she woke up with worsening pains in her belly, the home help called an ambulance, which took her back to the hospital, where she died after several hours of considerable pain..

It was only two years later, in late 1992, following a chance conversation with a radiologist friend, that her son, the author of this account, who lived in Rome, realised she had not died from natural causes. He had obtained the X-rays from the hospital, and showed them to his friend. Thus he learnt that the X-rays showed that she had been given the barium on top of an obvious intestinal occlusion.. This is against all the medical rules, for it can be, often is, and in this case surely was, fatal. The intestinal occlusion was such as to be obvious to the naked eye of any qualified doctor who might have seen her, but evidently no doctor did see her. 

Obviously therefore she had not been seen by her GP. It is illegal under Italian law to write out this sort of X-ray prescription without actually seeing the patient in person. The breach of this law was deliberate.

Nor had any doctor from the hospital been present when she was given the barium; it is also illegal for barium to be administered by a mere technician, without the presence of a doctor. If a doctor had been present and, seeing the condition of her abdomen, had authorised the barium, it would have been presumably a deliberate killing, ie  murder. Leaving aside any such outlandish hypothesis, the inevitable conclusion is that no doctor was present, and this is in any case illegal. The responsibility for ensuring that a doctor should be present lies with the head of the radiology department. 

The radiologist friend made a written statement. The son then obtained a second opinion from another radiologist who confirmed what his colleague had said. He then obtained a third opinion from a specialist in forensic medicine, who confirmed the opinions of the two radiologists, and stated that the son had not only the right, but the duty, to file a criminal complaint. He did so, in January 1993.

The Florentine Public Prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for manslaughter, which dragged on for four years. 

During the investigation the GP maintained that he had visited the victim in her house, though this was contradicted by testimony from the home help. To support his version he gave a description of the house, but this was contradicted by the home help who gave a true description. The investigating magistrate, Ms L.P., did not go, nor did she send anyone, to look at the house to see who was telling the truth. The son, as injured party in the case, placed this contradiction squarely in front of her, but she ignored it and recommended that the case be shelved as “insoluble”. 

One unexplained and uninvestigated oddity was that the X-rays had been given to the son with a medical report that was typed and unsigned, so as to be anonymous. It should have been signed by the radiologist who should have conducted the X-ray examination. When questioned, the head of the radiology department told the investigators that the doctors never typed their reports, which were typed by a typist, and that each doctor would sign his own report. Yet several witnesses amongst his colleagues said that some doctors did type their own reports, and that the head of the department was the most assiduous of all in using the typewriter.

Moreover two of the X-ray medical reports written on that same day had been signed, legibly, by the head of the department, over the typed name of another doctor, so it was clearly not true that “each doctor would sign his own report”, and clearly the head of the department must have known this since he himself had signed other doctors’ reports. There was no longer any record of any named doctor who should have been present when the barium was administered, but it was the responsibility of the head of the department to ensure that a doctor was present, as prescribed by law; yet no hint of any sort of proceedings against the head of the department, neither criminal nor disciplinary, was given at any stage by the members of the Florentine judiciary responsible for the investigation.

It was thus clear that the two main doctors involved had made blatantly untrue statements to the investigators. The son documented the falsity of these statements, and showed it to the investigating authorities. They did not refute this documentation, they simply said nothing and completely ignored it, and shelved the case as “insoluble”.

As injured party, under Italian criminal procedure, the son had no right of appeal against this decision. 

He had no alternative at this point but to apply for a judgement against the Republic of Italy in the ECHR under article 2 for failing to protect The Right to Life. It was now 1997.

The reasons for rejecting the application, as published, are given by the ECHR in this judgement.

Later this week, In the next instalments, we will publish an annotated version of that exact same text, showing the misrepresentation of the evidence at every step by the Court in the reasoning given for their judgement, and the culpable erasures, omissions, or glossings-over, in the Court’s “massaged” narrative of the “facts” which enabled it to reach its perverse conclusion.

 

 

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