NewsCrime World

Optometrist tried to "cover up" actions after failing to spot boy's brain condition

Crime WorldBy Sunday World
Vincent Barker
Vincent Barker

An optometrist who failed to spot symptoms of a life-threatening brain condition during a routine eye test of an eight-year-old boy who later died has been sentenced to a two-year suspended prison term.

Honey Rose, 35, failed to notice that Vincent Barker had swollen optic discs when she examined him at a branch of Boots in Ipswich.

The abnormality is a symptom of hydrocephalus - fluid on the brain - and Vincent died in July 2012, about five months after the eye test.

Rose had not looked at retinal photos taken by a colleague and failed to examine the backs of his eyes with an opthalmoscope, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

She had carried out thousands of examinations over years and was "generally competent".

Judge Jeremy Stuart-Smith, sentencing, said although it was a "single lapse", the breach of duty was so serious that it was criminal.

The landmark case is thought to be the first conviction of an optometrist for gross negligence manslaughter.

Gross negligence manslaughter cases generally involve multiple lapses over a period of time and involve obvious symptoms that would lead to a health practitioner referring someone for immediate treatment.

Judge Stuart-Smith told Rose: "You simply departed from your normal practice in a way that was completely untypical for you, a one-off, for no good reason."

He added that there was "nothing in (Vinnie's) general presentation that should have rung particular alarm bells for you".

Rose had tried to "cover up" her actions when she found out Vincent had died, claiming he had not co-operated and showed signs of photophobia.

Judge Stuart-Smith dismissed this account as false and praised the Barker family for showing "dignity and restraint", noting they had called for leniency in sentencing.

He said an immediate custodial sentence was not required to bring home the importance of optometrists properly discharging their duty to patients as the case had been highly publicised and had already caused great concern to the optometry profession.

A written statement from Vincent's mother Joanne Barker said: "The knowledge our loss should have been prevented and Vinnie should have been saved is intolerable to live with."

Rose's husband Louis Kennedy fought back tears as he took to the witness stand and said "sorry" to the Barker family, who were in court. Rose made no comment as she left court.

Ian Stern QC, mitigating, said Rose had worked "extremely hard" to qualify in India before moving to the UK and qualifying as an optometrist here.

"The loss of that vocation, which undoubtedly will happen when she comes before a fitness-to-practise panel, will affect her self-respect as someone who worked so hard to obtain those qualifications," said Mr Stern.

Rose has three children aged eight months, five and ten, and has not worked since March 2013.

He said the court case had "sent shockwaves round the optometric practice".

A letter from the Association of Optometrists said there had been an increase in practitioners' concerns about the way they were doing their job, said Jonathan Rees QC, prosecuting.

Rose, of High Street North, East Ham, was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter after an earlier trial at Ipswich Crown Court.

In addition to the suspended sentence she was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and given a 24-month supervision order.

Speaking outside court, Detective Superintendent Tonya Antonis, of Suffolk Police, said she felt the sentence was proportionate.

"It was never the Barker family's intention that Honey Rose should go to prison," she said.

"What they wanted was some accountability by the profession and to ensure this doesn't happen to anybody else."