Dr Michael Heath: Families feared they cremated the wrong person

By Marc Ashdown
BBC News, London

Published
image sourcePA Media
image captionIn one case Dr Michael Heath's findings led to a man being wrongly convicted of murdering his partner

Two bereaved families feared they had "cremated the wrong person" due to errors in the post-mortem reports of a serially discredited pathologist.

The BBC has spoken to several families who say Dr Michael Heath made multiple errors in his investigations into the deaths of their loved ones.

He led a disputed forensic inquiry into the death of Stuart Lubbock after a party at Michael Barrymore's home.

Dr Heath's work also led to a man being wrongly convicted of murder.

The General Medical Council (GMC) is currently investigating Dr Heath. Despite repeated attempts, the BBC has been unable to reach him for comment.

Relatives of Ann House say a post-mortem examination on the 74-year-old contained errors, including mentioning her gallbladder - which had been removed five years earlier.

image sourceAlistair House
image captionAnn House died in hospital last year

Ms House, a former social worker, was admitted to East Surrey Hospital in May 2020 suffering from shortness of breath.

She died at the hospital three months later, and a post-mortem examination was carried out by Dr Heath.

"All the way through the report there was sort of various anomalies," her son Alistair House said.

media captionDr Heath's report sent "alarm bells ringing"

"[The report said] my mother's body was well-nourished. Well when she died, she weighed less than 50 kilos.

"And then what really sort of got the alarm bells ringing was the mention of a gallbladder that she'd had removed in 2016," Mr House added.

"Having already cremated my mum, we started to fear that we potentially cremated the wrong body."

image sourceAmy Dickson
image captionAmy Dickson said her father (right) was "frail" at the time of his death

Amy Dickson also feared she had cremated the wrong body after receiving Dr Heath's post-mortem report on her father.

Ms Dickson said she felt "utter disbelief" when the report described her father, an alcoholic, as overweight with a healthy liver.

She says her father, Steve Goodenough, was frail with a poor liver and healthy heart.

'Didn't ring true'

However, the report put his death down to a failed heart and probable alcohol withdrawal, but ignored the fact he had received a wine delivery days before he died, Ms Dickson said.

"I sort of read it through and it just didn't ring true."

Receiving an incorrect report "added a whole new dimension" of trauma, she said.

Incorrect post-mortem reports could have "really, really important" consequences "in terms of the care their loved one received, in terms of potentially criminal investigations," Ms Dickson said

"There are people who will never get the answers that they need for their own peace of mind."

Two further families have come forward to the BBC with similar concerns about Dr Heath's work.

image sourcePA Media
image captionIn 2006 Dr Heath stood down from police work

For 20 years Dr Heath's career has been littered with controversy.

In 2001, his work came under scrutiny when his findings over the death of Mr Lubbock differed from those of other pathologists.

A disciplinary panel in 2006 found mistakes in Dr Heath's post-mortem examinations on Mary Anne Moore and Jacqueline Tindsley led to their partners being tried for murder.

Stephen Puaca, Ms Tindsley's partner, served three years of a life sentence for her murder following Dr Heath's evidence, before his conviction was overturned.

Following the report, Dr Heath stood down from police work, but in recent years has been conducting post-mortem examinations for Surrey Coroner's Court.

image sourceFamily handout/PA Media
image captionStuart Lubbock died after being found unconscious in a swimming pool at the home of TV presenter Michael Barrymore in March 2001

In 2009 the GMC found Dr Heath guilty of serious misconduct, but ruled his fitness to practise was not impaired.

In March this year the GMC launched a new investigation into Dr Heath.

The GMC said it could not comment on ongoing investigations, but has placed a series of stringent conditions on Dr Heath's licence to practise.

Surrey County Council has since suspended Dr Heath from working for the coroner.

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