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Hate Crimes

Andrew O'Leary
Body plundered ... little Andrew
O'Leary in hospital before he died



By Philip Cardy and Guy Patrick
The Sun
January 31, 2001

A WEEPING mother told yesterday how she found the organs of her dead baby in 36 glass jars in a dirty hospital basement.

Paula O'Leary, 42, said she gasped in horror at the sight of son Andrew's pickled remains, which included his brain, liver and kidneys.

Then she plucked the jars from a table, stuffed them into a Sainsbury's carrier bag and fled sobbing into rainswept city streets.

She said: "It was like a chamber of horrors in there. I will never get over it. My experience made me feel physically sick."

Paula, one of the parents caught up in the baby organs storm at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital, told her chilling story as two shock reports into Britain's body parts scandal were released.

Paula O'Leary
Heartbroken ... Paula O'Leary

REPORT No1, by the Government's Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson, revealed that more than 100,000 organs are being held by hospitals and medical schools across the country.

And thousands of families have buried loved ones without knowing of their missing body parts.

REPORT No2, by QC Michael Redfern, accused "Frankenstein" pathologist Professor Dick van Velzen of systematically stripping organs from dead children at Alder Hey.

Some of the tots whose corpses were plundered at the hospital are pictured on this page.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn made a public apology to the children's families over the "unforgivable" events - and handed the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Alder Hey Report
Horrific ... Alder Hey report

Police will now hunt down 51-year-old van Velzen, who is in hiding in his native Holland, so he can face justice.

Mum-of-three Paula's terrible ordeal spanned nearly 20 years following little Andrew's death in 1981 - and involved TWO burials.

Andrew and a twin sister, Stephanie, were born three months prematurely at Alder Hey.

Stephanie died after three days but Andrew survived for 11 months before falling victim to cot death while still in hospital.

Grief-stricken Paula and her husband Thomas, an oil rig worker, buried the baby near their home in Bootle, Merseyside.

But in September 1999 Paula read a newspaper article about hearts being stored at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

She contacted Alder Hey to ask if anything similar had happened there. And a week later the hospital admitted it had taken Andrew's heart.

Victims ... Rachel Brown, left,
Kayleigh Valentine and Jessica Moore

Paula said: "I went absolutely numb - it was the worst day of my life since Andrew's death."

The mum - whose other children are Thomas, 22, Michael, 17, and Danny, ten - was at first told the heart could not be released for burial.

But after she camped out in a hospital corridor for four days, it was handed over.

Andrew's tiny grave was opened. And a casket containing the heart was placed beside his body in a poignant service.

Unbelievably, worse was to come. Two months later Alder Hey admitted more of Andrew's organs and bones had been removed.

They included his skull, brain, liver, kidneys, spinal cord, gall bladder, adrenal glands and thymus - a chest gland which boosts immunity.

Hospital chiefs said they had been destroyed but that two slides of tissue samples taken from the baby had been kept at its Institute of Child Health.

Victims ... Christopher Hellon, left,
David Baines and William Green

Paula demanded to see them - and the hospital agreed provided she was accompanied by a solicitor.

The mum was led into the depths of the hospital and into the musty basement through a sealed door. She found no slides - but was confronted with a box on a table containing Andrew's pickled organs, eerily suspended in glass blocks.

She was told the child's pancreas and thyroid gland had vanished. Paula said:

"I had insisted on seeing what was left of my baby but was shocked to see 36 big jars with all of Andrew's organs in them.

"It was a terrible sight. All his internal organs had been taken away.

"I snatched them and ran. I was distraught. All I can remember was that it was teeming with rain and I placed the glass blocks in a carrier bag."

Shaking with rage, Paula ran all the way to the office of Liverpool coroner Andre Rebello - and left the pitiful remains in his care.

Victims ... Sara Lee Harrison, left,
Ian Murphy and Sharon Morris

She and her family cannot face the anguish of a THIRD burial. And she has requested that Andrew's organs be buried with her or her husband upon their death.

She said: "We have been through hell. It has been a living nightmare."

Paula and Thomas have spent the last 17 months fighting for justice for all the young victims of Alder Hey's butchery.

The mum is now vice-chairman of the action group PITY II - Parents who have Interred Their Youngsters Twice.

She said: "I am really annoyed we had to fight tooth and nail for the truth to come out and for the Government to order a report.

"I have even been threatened with arrest for trying to snatch my son's organs from the hospital.

"Everyone now accepts we have been in the right and that the hospital authorities were wrong.

"But many do not realise what a struggle it has been and how we have been blocked at nearly every turn."

Andrew was NOT plundered by van Velzen, who worked at Alder Hey from 1988 to 1995. But Paula said: "Speaking to other families it is clear he was obsessed with stripping children of their entire organ systems."

A whole child in one jar

  • 104,300 hearts, brains & lungs in hospital stores
  • One tot at Alder Hey labelled "Humpty Dumpty"

organ room
Grisly ... a room at Alder Hey
where organs were kept

MEDICS kept the body of a child in one jar - and its head in another, a damning report revealed yesterday.

The head of an 11-year-old boy was another "disturbing specimen" in a room crammed with youngsters' body parts, an inquiry found.

The sickening revelations were contained in the report of an inquiry into the retention of organs without parents' consent at Liverpool's Alder Hey Hospital.

The probe, chaired by Michael Redfern QC, blasted hospital bosses and Dick van Velzen, the Dutch professor at the centre of the scandal dubbed "Dr Frankenstein".

Its findings were released as ANOTHER shock report, by the Government's Chief Medical Officer, confirmed that thousands of families all over England were unaware their loved ones had been buried with body parts missing.

Professor Liam Donaldson said 104,300 hearts, brains, lungs and other body parts were still being held by hospitals and medical schools.

Prof Donaldson said these figures would be "shocking" to the public and ordered changes to the laws governing permission for organ removal.

The 550-page Redfern report gave a chilling account of how a huge collection of tots' body parts were stockpiled at Alder Hey.

Its most horrendous section read: "There are two containers with a whole body of a child in one and a separated head in the other.

"Perhaps the most disturbing specimen is that of the head of a boy aged 11 years."

The hospital and the University of Liverpool, whose lab was used for storage, were condemned for keeping 2,128 children's hearts and 1,564 stillborn or aborted foetuses.

Tissue samples from 147 brains and 188 eyes were catalogued in the hospital stores.

The report also found that the organs from ANIMALS including pigs, lambs and even kangaroos, gibbons and a giant tortoise were kept on a shelf in the same room as some human remains.

To make matters worse, labelling of body parts was "shocking and disrespectful."

One label relating to a nine-week-old foetus carried the words: "Inflated monster. Humpty Dumpty."

The description of a 45-day-old foetus read: "Neck deeply lacerated. Pull it to pieces sometime and reject."

The report said hearts had been taken from bodies without parents' knowledge at Alder Hey as far back as 1948.

Some of the stockpiled body parts dated back to the 1960s but the report concentrated on 1988-1995, when van Velzen worked there.

It said the doctor lied to bosses during his interview to become chair of foetal pathology - and within a week of taking over had ordered colleagues not to dispose of any human material.

The report levelled 20 serious accusations against the professor, from lying to parents to falsifying records.

It vowed to report him to the General Medical Council and Director of Public Prosecutions, concluding: "Professor van Velzen must never be allowed to practise again."

The inquiry by Mr Redfern, a specialist in clinical negligence, took 11 months and studied 50,000 documents.

It highlighted 17 major management flaws including MISSING opportunities to discipline van Velzen, FAILING to supervise his unit and NOT having proper cataloguing.

It found the hospital "failed to prevent Professor van Velzen's excesses, thereby imperilling patient care".

Van Velzen came to Alder Hey in 1988 as the world's leading cot death expert, declaring that children were "much too precious to die without making use of every single scrap of information".

But the full horror of his methods was revealed as more and more body parts, even including the skin and tongues from dead children, were discovered.

After he quit Alder Hey in 1995 he worked in Canada, where he was sacked for "incompetent acts" and a lock-up full of body parts was later found. After a spell in Trinidad he returned to Holland and got a job in The Hague.

Apologising to parents yesterday, Health Minister Alan Milburn said van Velzen had "systematically ordered the unethical and illegal stripping of every organ from every child who had a post mortem".

Mr Milburn said the law would be changed to prevent similar events from happening again and pledged: "Those responsible will be brought to account." Meanwhile the Government report by Prof Liam Donaldson confirmed that well over 100,000 organs and other body parts were still being stored.

His census of organ retention - ordered by ex-Health Secretary Frank Dobson after the Alder Hey scandal first emerged - could mean that scores of hospitals may be asked to return organs.

The census found that, at the end of 1999, a total of 210 NHS trusts and medical schools were holding organs.

Professor Donaldson slammed the current law governing organ retention as "unclear and ambiguous".

Hospitals may have even "ignored and deviated from the law" in keeping body parts for decades for no purpose.

Doctors were more concerned about getting organs for research than about the feelings of patients' families, the report concluded.

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