A family’s first-hand experience of an inquest

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Everyone’s experience of an inquest is different, depending on the circumstances. In March this year, Novum Law represented the family of Azra Parveen Hussain (nee Sultan), a 40-year-old mother of four, at an inquest into her death. Azra tragically died at a mental health hospital after several missed opportunities to keep her safe. Her story was covered by the BBC.

Litigation Executive Nicola Culverhouse, who assisted specialist inquest lawyer Mary Smith, as they supported Azra’s family during the inquest into her death, recently spoke to Azra’s daughter Mari about their own experiences of the inquest process and its impact on them.

Nicola: At what point did you feel that you needed legal representation and why?

Mari: Since the day that my mum died on 6 May 2020, I knew that it should not have happened. Her death could have been avoided and I still feel strongly about that to this day. I knew that it was negligence, based on what I had to witness, from speaking to my mum, and based on my personal experiences with Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Nicola: Can you explain the difficulties you had obtaining legal representation before contacting Novum Law?

Mari: There were so many difficulties and obstacles, hence the eight-month gap between my mum’s death and obtaining legal representation. My sister and I called countless law firms for help but were rejected time and time again. In the end, I thought we would never be eligible for representation and gave up the search altogether until December 2020, when I had to find out for myself through searching my mum’s name, that her hearing was no longer adjourned.

Nicola: What was your experience dealing with the coroner’s office and inquest process before instructing Novum law?

Mari: As my older brother was next-of-kin, he was sent the correspondence from the coroner’s office. From what I understand, they were quite helpful and had my brother reached out to them and stayed in contact, I’m sure they would have accommodated him well and handled the situation professionally and delicately. However, we knew nothing about inquests or what the process involved, and we had no reassurance or clarification until I spoke to Mary Smith from Novum Law.

Nicola: What brought you to Novum Law?

Mari: I did quite a lot of internet research and got in touch with someone who recommended Novum Law. They offered to transfer me straight through to Mary Smith’s secretary, passed on my contact details and from there, Mary called me back and we hit it off during a two-hour-long phone call. This is when I knew, Novum Law were perfect for mum’s case.

Nicola: When you instructed Novum Law, how did this help you and the family?

Mari: I don’t think I can quite explain the feeling. You’d have to be in a similar situation to understand how it feels. It’s quite overwhelming but it’s also a massive relief like I was holding my breath since mum died but could finally breathe. Once Mary sent over the email of an official statement that she’d be representing our family, it was a step towards justice for mum. I remember seeing the official Novum Law logo and screamed with excitement (admittedly, I cried too). I shared the news with my family and friends, who were really pleased and hopeful for mum’s case going forward. For the first time, we had hope that we could win mum’s case.

Nicola: All this happened during COVID, did you find it difficult not meeting your lawyers in person prior to the inquest?

Mari: It would’ve been nice to meet in person and get to know each other a little better, as well as the details of my mum’s case but I can’t say it had any bearing on our relationship or the inquest. You, Mary, and Chris from Doughty Street Chambers were simply amazing at familiarising yourselves with what had happened and what course of action we needed to take. I don’t trust easily but I felt relaxed and trusting with each of you. We were able to do everything remotely and personally, I preferred the arrangements at the time, as I don’t think I could’ve faced seeing anyone back then.

Nicola: How was your experience of dealing with the inquest process?

Mari: It was heavy, stressful and every single emotion ran high at one point or another. However, we were only able to maintain our composure (most of the time), due to the guidance and support from our legal team. Having legal representation diminished my worries and anxiety, considerably. The inquest itself was difficult while we were accessing the proceedings remotely, as we (among others present) ran into technical difficulties, which interrupted the proceedings. We felt more nervous and increasingly anxious that it’d keep happening. Even though everyone was understanding and waited for us before continuing, we still felt embarrassed, and the situation was not ideal. However, our coroner was kind enough to accommodate us in person halfway through the proceedings and we got to attend, alongside Mary. This was miles better and much easier than joining remotely.

Nicola: How important was it for you to have a lawyer there when you attended in person?

Mari: It’s a very daunting experience and not one we ever had to do before, so it was unknown territory and uncharted waters for us. However, it was extremely comforting to have Mary with us in person. She’s very down to earth but also extremely experienced and knowledgeable at the same time. For the first time since mum died, we felt a lot less alone.

Nicola: What advice would you give another family who possibly finds themselves in the same situation you were in?

Mari: I would say I’m sorry that you’re here, I’m so sorry for your loss and I’m sorry that it has come to this. It’s not fair- your loved one did not deserve this and you as a family, don’t deserve this either. I’m sorry that you were all let down, that your loved one has been taken from you and lost their life too soon. It’s the last thing you’ll want to think about but please get legal representation, no matter how many times you must share such tragic events or how many times you get told, “no”. In fact, go straight to Novum Law. Try to obtain legal representation as soon as possible. No one wants to attend an inquest but it’s important that questions are answered, the truth is revealed and those responsible are held accountable. Inquests are also a part of your healing process and a place where you (and your loved one) finally get a voice. The best advice that I can give, is to prepare yourself in every way possible. Inquests are extremely emotionally challenging, and you’ll feel every single emotion at one point or another. You’ll never be able to accept what has happened, but the inquest will help you to come to terms with everything so that you can begin to heal. Think of it as a milestone that you’re accomplishing, so that you can leave all the bad stuff behind and move forward while remembering your loved one in the best possible way.

An inquest is a process and just remember, you’re doing it for justice for your loved one and this is where your loved one will have a voice. Have hope and faith that you’ll win. Always fight for justice, especially for your loved one but please remember to prioritise your own health first. As my mum used to say, “You can’t expect to give 100% if you’re not 100% yourself. Always take care of your own health first, so that you can take care of others later”. Never stop fighting for justice for your loved one and never stop raising awareness for the cause and for those suffering in silence. When you’re ready, share your loved one’s story with the world, so that no one else has to go through what your family have, and no more lives have to be lost. Your loved one deserves recognition; their story deserves to be shared and just know that their death wasn’t in vain. Nothing will ever fill that emptiness- the hole in your heart that your loved one’s loss left behind. I can tell you that you will find a way to cope with all of this. Their loss won’t ever get any easier, but you will get through this. Speaking to bereavement specialists can help but if you prefer something a little more private, I recommend getting a ‘Grief Journal’. Try to keep an open mind, as they really are brilliant. Nothing can ever compensate for your loss and nothing in the world will ever bring your loved one back but just know, they’d want you to be happy, safe, and secure. They will always be with you, in everything that you do and every decision that you make. Keep them alive in your heart and that’s all the strength you’ll ever need.

Nicola: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mari: I’d just like to say a massive thank you to Novum Law, for all you’ve done for my family and me. Thank you to everyone that worked on my mum’s case but never got to meet. Also, a massive thank you to you, Nicola. I would’ve been lost without you. Thank you for your messages of support throughout the inquest and thank you for calling me to see if I was okay when I became overwhelmed with the first witness and had to leave the room. Thank you for all your hard work and I’m glad we had you on mum’s case – you really set the tone for the inquest, and we couldn’t have won without you. You, Mary, and Chris are some of the nicest people I think I’ve ever met and you’re a credit to your line of work. Your clients are incredibly lucky to have you working on their cases. Thank you all!

Novum Law regularly represents and supports bereaved families at inquests into their loved one’s death. To find out more information and speak to a specialist inquest lawyer, call us on Freephone 0800 884 0777 or email info@novumlaw.com.

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