Mum's anguish as body parts of son killed 20 years ago found stored in hospital

Trudy Chapman with a picture of her son Justin Smith.
Trudy Chapman with a picture of her son Justin Smith.

The mother of a Sunderland man killed on a night out more than 20 years ago has spoken of her anger after learning his body parts were being stored in a hospital without her knowledge.

Trudy Chapman had visited her son Justin Smith’s grave at in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery never believing her boy’s body had been buried incomplete.

Justin Smith was killed on a night out back in 1995.

Justin Smith was killed on a night out back in 1995.

But the 63-year-old has just discovered that his brain, part of his throat and some internal tissues have been stored at South Tyneside District Hospital since his death in 1995.

The 20-year-old former Southmoor School student had been on a night out in Gateshead back in with his girlfriend and friends when he was attacked.

His body was found by a milkman in the early hours, with the police’s task of identifying him and tracing his family made even harder after he was stripped down to his boxer shorts.

Mum-of-three Trudy, who was forced to give up her call centre job with EE in 2014 following a stroke, was visited recently by police officers at her Ford Estate home as they told her the organs had been stored for "longer than necessary."

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

Trudy said: "We buried Justin in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery and at the time, that was the end of it.

"Then I was contacted by the police who told me that because of a law change, they had to tell me they had retained some of Justin’s organs.

"I wasn’t angry at the time because I thought if that was the law back then, that’s fine and I accepted it, but now I’ve had time and I don’t believe it’s right and proper.

"The organs were found as part of an audit and now I’m really angry because I feel I’ve been lied to and they should not have lied to me.

South Tyneside District Hospital.

South Tyneside District Hospital.

"The man admitted what he had done to Justin, there was no trial, so I don’t know why they had to hold on to them.

"Other family members of Justin are furious about this.

"We were given the options of burial of the organs, cremation or for the hospital to dispose of them.

"One of my other children said they wanted them to be cremated, but then we were told there might not be any ashes, which we don’t understand, because even if you burn a piece of paper there will be ashes, why not with organs?

"Now I’m concerned, because how do we even know they are my son’s organs?

"If we had thought about it, we could have asked for a DNA test, but they might have already been cremated and it could be too late."

Trudy described her late son as a "mummy’s boy".

She makes regular visits to his graveside with her dog Mylee, with Justin buried just a short walk from her second husband Brian Chapman, who died in 2008 aged 58 after he became ill with cancer.

MP CALLS FOR ANSWERS

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has called on police to say how many families are affected by the human tissue probe at South Tyneside District Hospital.

Mrs Lewell-Buck says it is a matter of transparency that the scale of the operation is made public.

Northumbria Police will still not say how many families are involved in the investigation - which was launched after organs and body tissue was found to have been kept "longer than necessary."

Some of the material - taken as part of criminal and inquest investigations - dates back 20 years.

The samples were found at the hospital, in Harton Lane, South Shields, during an audit two years ago.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: "It will be extremely distressing for the affected families to learn of these findings.

"I am disappointed to hear of this situation and I trust that measures are now in place to ensure robust procedures going forward.

"In such circumstances it is important that families are given as much information and support as they require to help them come to terms with their renewed grief.

"It is also important that transparency on the facts of this audit and scale of the findings is evident in the wider public interest "

Police say they have still to contact a number of families as a probe continues.

It is understood that the number of families affected is in double figures.

Cleveland Police has already confirmed it is speaking to 13 families, but Northumbria says it has decided not to make public how many people are involved.

A spokeswoman for the Northumbria Police said: "Our specially trained officers are in the process of locating and speaking to the families affected, which will take some time as some next of kin do not live in the North East.

"Officers are visiting each family in person to provide information and support to them."

It is understood the samples were taken to the hospital by a pathologist who covered a large area of the North East.

Police forces nationwide began carrying out audits in 2010 after it became apparent human tissue samples going back many years may have been retained.

All the cases in South Tyneside pre-date 2006, when the Human Tissue Act 2004 came into force. The audit was completed in March 2015 and police were made aware that some human tissue samples had been identified at South Tyneside District Hospital that have been kept longer than necessary.

The Human Tissue Authority said they will be keeping in contact with those involved.

Health Watch South Tyneside did not want to comment on the investigation.