Sajid Javid – 2021 Statement on David Fuller

The statement made by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 8 November 2021.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the appalling crimes committed by David Fuller and the Government’s next steps. In recent days, the courts have heard about a series of David Fuller’s shocking and depraved offences. The legal process is ongoing, as you have just said, Mr Speaker. David Fuller is yet to be sentenced, so there are some things it would be inappropriate for me to talk about at this time. I am sure the House will understand why the majority of my statement will focus on the steps that we are taking in response to those crimes and not the crimes themselves.

Before I do, I will briefly update the House on this shocking case. In December, David Fuller was charged with the murder of two young women, Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce, in the Tunbridge Wells area of Kent in 1987. Last week, he pleaded guilty to their murders. My thoughts, and I am sure the thoughts of the whole House, are with Wendy and Caroline’s family and friends.

As well as that, the Kent and Essex serious crime directorate has been carrying out an investigation into his offences in hospital settings between 2008 and 2020. As a result, Fuller was charged with a series of shocking offences involving sexual offences committed in a hospital mortuary. He has also pleaded guilty to these offences. As sentencing has yet to take place, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the case, but I will say that, in the light of what has happened, the Justice Secretary will be looking at whether the penalties that are currently available for such appalling sexual offences are appropriate.

It has taken months of painstaking work to uncover the extent of this man’s offending. The fact that these offences took place in a hospital—a place where all of us should feel safe and free from harm—makes this all the more harrowing. This has been an immensely distressing investigation, and I would like to thank the police for the diligent and sensitive way that they have approached it. They have shown the utmost professionalism in the most upsetting of circumstances, and I would like to thank them for their ongoing work. I would also like to thank the local NHS trust—Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust—for co-operating so closely with the police.

Officers have, tragically, found evidence of 100 victims. Of these victims, 81 have been formally identified, and specially trained family liaison officers have been supporting their families. Every family of a known victim has been contacted. We have been working closely with the police, the police and crime commissioner and the NHS trust to make sure that those families who have been directly affected receive the 24/7 support that they need, including access to dedicated caseworkers, and mental health support and counselling.

If anyone else is concerned that they or their loved ones may be a victim, or if they have any further information, they should search online for the major incident police portal, and select “Kent Police” and “Operation Sandpiper”. I know how distressing the details of these offences will be for many people. The local NHS trust has put arrangements in place to support staff who have been affected, and regardless of whether or not someone has been directly impacted by these offences, they can access the resources that are available on the My Support Space website.

This is a profoundly upsetting case that has involved distressing offences within the health service. The victims are not just those family members and friends who have been abused in this most horrific of ways; they are also those who are left behind—people who have already experienced loss, and now experience unimaginable pain and anger. They are victims, too.

Even as we look into exactly what happened, I, as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, want to apologise to the friends and families of all the victims for the crimes that were perpetrated in the care of the NHS, and for the hurt and suffering they are feeling. I know that no apology can undo the pain and suffering caused by these offences, but with such serious issues of dignity and security, we have a duty to look at what happened in detail, and make sure it never happens again, so I would like to update the House on the steps we are taking.

First, NHS England has written to all NHS trusts asking for mortuary access and post-mortem activities to be reviewed against the current guidance from the Human Tissue Authority. Trusts have also been asked to review their ways of working and to take a number of extra steps, including making sure that they have effective CCTV coverage in place, that entry and access points are controlled with swipe access, and that appropriate Disclosure and Barring Service checks and risk assessments are being carried out. NHS England will report directly to me with assurances that these measures have been taken, so that we can be confident that the highest standards are being followed and that we are maintaining security and upholding the dignity of the deceased. Next, the local trust has been putting its own steps in place. It has already conducted a peer review of mortuary practice, and it initiated an independent investigation into those specific offences.

I thank the trust and its leadership for its quick initial work to set up that investigation, but given the scale and nature of these sexual offences, I believe we must go further. Today I can announce that I am replacing the trust investigation with an independent inquiry that will look into the circumstances surrounding the offences committed at the hospital, and their national implications. It will help us to understand how those offences took place without detection in the trust, identify any areas where early action by the trust was necessary, and consider wider national issues, including for the NHS. I have appointed Sir Jonathan Michael to chair this inquiry. Sir Jonathan is an experienced NHS chief executive, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and a former chief executive of three NHS hospital trusts. He had been leading the trust investigation, and will be able to build on some of the work he has already done. The inquiry will be independent, and it will report to me as Secretary of State.

I have asked Sir Jonathan to split his inquiry into two parts: the first, an interim report, which I have asked for early in the new year; the second, a final report looking at the broader national picture and the wider lessons for the NHS and other settings. We will publish the terms of reference in due course, and I have also asked Sir Jonathan to discuss with families and others to input into this process. Sir Jonathan’s findings will be public and they will be published. We have a responsibility to everyone affected by these shocking crimes to do right by those we have lost, and by those still left behind in their shock and their grief. Nothing that we can say in this place will undo the damage that has been done, but we must act to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again. I commend this statement to the House.