Stillbirth was the result of a catalogue of errors, court hears

Hearing into the death of Cara Rocks in 2013 is the North’s first-ever stillbirth inquest

A catalogue of failures contributed to the stillbirth of a baby girl at a Northern Ireland hospital, a landmark inquest has heard.

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust also apologised for the death of baby Cara Rocks in June 2013, admitting a number of mistakes had been made in the case.

Barrister David Dunlop told Belfast Coroner's Court: "It is likely if an elective or emergency c-section had taken place baby Cara would not have been stillborn."

The hearing, which is listed for five days, is the first-ever stillbirth inquest in Northern Ireland and follows a Court of Appeal ruling in November 2013.

Coroner Joe McCrisken said the region was “leading the way” in the examination of stillbirth causes.

Cara Rocks died at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, Co Derry, on June 26th, 2013.

In a statement, a lawyer for the Northern Trust said it was “accepted” a number of errors had played a part in her death.

These included:

- Wrongly categorising Michelle Rocks, Cara's mother, who had had a previous caesarean section, as "low-risk";

- Inadequate levels of counselling from a senior medic on the mode of delivery;

- Administration of the hormone Propess to induce labour without the risks being discussed with Ms Rocks;

- Incorrect recording of baby Cara’s heart rate as suspicious, not pathological meaning critical, following induction, and

- Delays in the decision to proceed to an emergency c-section because of time spent trying to locate a foetal heart rate.

The Trust’s lawyer said: “The Trust wishes to express an apology to Mr and Ms Rocks for the unfortunate death of baby Cara.

“Obviously this is a tragedy for the family. It is not taken lightly and is recognised by all members of the Trust who were involved in this case.”

In the witness box, Michelle Rocks (38), from Moneymore in Co Derry, broke down as details of the delivery were read out.

She recalled repeatedly requesting a planned c-section over fears of complications following bad experiences with her two sons.

She said: “Because I had an emergency section with Daniel and a normal birth with Tony which ended up in a vacuum delivery, I knew I couldn’t deliver.

“I had gone through both so I knew what was best for me.”

Ms Rocks described feeling “very upset” and said she was “in tears” when she was informed her request for an elective c-section would not be facilitated and that she was “capable” of delivering naturally.

She said: “I thought that they had the right to refuse me.

“I thought the decision was made and that’s that.”

Sent home

The court also heard how Ms Rocks was sent home after presenting at the Causeway Hospital at 38-weeks’ gestation with her baby in a transverse position.

She “begged” for a c-section but was turned down, it was claimed.

Following her daughter’s death, Ms Rocks said she was left feeling angry, anxious and distressed at the sight of other babies.

She also lost faith in the medical profession, the inquest heard.

“Our lives were turned upside down. I do not think that we will ever get over the loss,” said Ms Rocks.

“We were robbed of our daughter; our sons of their sister and parents of their granddaughter.

“We only wish that she had that chance to live.”

Among the medics to give evidence was a midwife of more than 20 years, Michaela Doherty, who had cared for Ms Rocks in the delivery suite.

She broke down in tears as she recalled the baby’s death and said despite difficulties in reading Cara’s heart rate she did not believe it was not there.

Later, she told the court she had been informed that baby Cara’s umbilical cord had been wrapped around her neck.

“I was told the chord was tightly round the neck three times,” said Ms Doherty.

“It was common knowledge.”

Opening the case, the coroner cautioned that the five-day hearing was not a trial.

Mr McCrisken said: “This is not a trial and no one is on trial.

“This is a fact-finding inquiry. I am not here to attribute any blame or responsibility.”

The case continues.

Press Association