Saturday, 13 February 2021

Colin Norris ~ CCRC refers case to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)

Colin Norris Conviction:

On 3 March 2008 in the Crown Court at Newcastle upon Tyne, after a trial lasting five months before Griffith Williams J and a jury, Colin Norris was convicted of the murder of four elderly hospital patients and the attempted murder of another in the space of 6 months in two hospitals in Leeds in 2002. 

Norris worked as a nurse on orthopaedic wards at hospitals in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Many of the patients were elderly females, who had been admitted for surgery to deal with bones that had been broken following an accident. The most common injuries seen on those wards were hip fractures.  

The prosecution case at the trial was

that the appellant had deliberately injected five elderly women with either insulin or another anti-diabetic agent of the sulfonylurea class. The prosecution alleged that in the case of four women, Ethel Hall, Doris Ludlam, Bridget Bourke and Irene Crookes, the injection of insulin or other anti-diabetic agent had led to brain damage caused by hypoglycaemia and the brain damage was either the cause of their deaths or a significant contributory cause of their deaths.  

In the case of the fifth lady, Vera Wilby, the prosecution case was that the appellant had administered her insulin or some other anti-diabetic drug and this had induced a hypoglycaemic state bordering on coma. However, Vera Wilby survived the coma and died eight months later of unrelated natural causes. The prosecution case was that the appellant administered the insulin or anti-diabetic drug with an intent to kill Vera Wilby. Hence the charge, in that case, of attempted murder.

On 4 March 2008 Griffith Williams J sentenced Colin Norris to life imprisonment in respect of the four murder charges. The judge set the minimum term to be served at 30 years, less 166 days spent in custody on remand. In respect of the attempted murder count, the judge imposed a sentence of imprisonment for public protection, and he set a minimum term of 20 years. The judge ordered that that sentence should run concurrently with the term of life imprisonment.

In 2009, Colin Norris was struck off the register by the Nursing and Midwifery Council's Fitness to Practise Committee.

2009 Appeal:

Norris appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). The three grounds of appeal are set out at paragraph 3 of the court's judgment - R v Norris [2009] EWCA Crim 2697 (Aikens LJ, Field J and HHJ Stephens QC). The appeal was dismssed with the court commenting (paras 89 and 90) that

"The case against the appellant was very strong indeed. We are quite satisfied that the convictions of the appellant on all five counts were safe. The appeal is dismissed. 

We wish to repeat our sincere admiration for the way in which Griffith Williams J dealt with all the complex issues in this case, in particular the vast amount of scientific evidence, in his summing up to the jury. It was a tour de force."

Reference by CCRC:

On 12 February 2021 the Criminal Cases Review Commission announced that it was referring Colin Norris' case for review by the Court of Appeal - CCRC Announcement 12 February

The announcement notes that Norris applied to the CCRC in October 2011 - (almost 10 years ago).

The CCRC comments - "As part of its highly complex review, the CCRC considered new expert evidence presented by Mr Norris’s representatives and instructed its own expert to provide a number of reports. The experts agree that the hypoglycaemia in the four patients other than Mrs Hall may be accounted for by natural causes. The new expert evidence has also highlighted several other relevant developments in the understanding of hypoglycaemia, including its prevalence in the elderly and frail, which cast further doubt on the expert opinion relied upon by the prosecution at trial. This new expert evidence explored recent developments in a complex area where scientific understanding is still developing.

As a result of the new expert evidence, the CCRC has concluded that there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will decide that that Mr Norris’s conviction for the murder / attempted murder of one or more of the four patients is unsafe. As regards the murder of Mrs Hall, the CCRC considers that this conviction depends upon support from the other 4 cases and the prosecution’s assertion that no-one other than Mr Norris could have been responsible. In light of the new expert evidence, the CCRC is satisfied that this assertion is now less secure and that, as a result, there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will quash this conviction too.

In reaching this decision, the CCRC has been greatly assisted by the submissions put forward by Mr Norris’s representatives throughout the review.

Note:

The Court of Appeal's 2009 judgment noted (para 9) that - Hypoglycaemia is a condition which occurs when an excess of insulin causes the blood glucose concentration to fall below 2.5 millimoles per 1 litre of blood in the body. If the blood glucose concentration falls below that level it affects proper brain activity. If hypoglycaemia is prolonged and serious, it can cause brain damage, coma and death. Hypoglycaemia is a condition usually found in diabetics when an excess of insulin causes the fall in blood glucose concentration. In people suffering from diabetes, the effect of this fall is not usually so serious. That is because they already have raised glucose levels and are alerted to physiological changes, but symptoms such as blurred vision, seizures and even coma may result. The condition can be treated quickly by an ingestion of glucose and insulin combined. 

NHS - Hypoglycaemia (Low Blood Sugar)

13 February 2021.

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