Stoke & Staffordshire

Cannock toddler inquest moved to avoid 'perceived bias'

Jonnie Meek Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Jonnie Meek died in hospital days after his third birthday

A coroner re-examining the death of a three-year-old boy is to get someone else to lead the probe after saying the family dislikes him.

The case has already proved contentious after Jonnie Meek's parents rejected the first inquest's verdict their son died of natural causes.

He died at Stafford Hospital in 2014, with the High Court ruling in April there should be a new inquest to get to the bottom of what happened.

But Thursday's hearing ended in a row.

Andrew Haigh, coroner for South Staffordshire, was in charge and looking to work out how the matter should proceed following the High Court's finding that a new inquest was "necessary and desirable".

Jonnie Meek had a rare congenital disability and died in hospital two days after his third birthday. An inquest in 2015 - overseen by the same coroner's court, but not Mr Haigh - found he died of natural causes due to pneumonia.

But his parents, from Cannock, dispute the verdict, maintaining their son died from a severe allergic reaction to milk given to him at the hospital.

An independent review led to three doctors concluding an allergic reaction to the new feed was likely to have contributed to his death.

Image caption Mr and Mrs Meek believe an allergic reaction to milk contributed to their son's death

In a heated hearing, Jonnie's father John Meek accused Mr Haigh of being "defensive".

Addressing the coroner, Mr Meek said: "The expectation of blame leads to defensive behaviour. You do seem very defensive today."

In response, Mr Haigh said while a different coroner had overseen the original inquest, he had set the terms of reference for it.

He said: "I can see the family clearly don't like me. I think it would be appropriate because of perceived bias that this matter should go elsewhere."

Mr Haigh decided the fresh hearing would take place in the jurisdiction of Shropshire, although a date was not set.

Representing the toddler's family, barrister Andrew Bousfield outlined areas of concern in a list that included reference to an X-ray cancellation, refusal to allow attendance of witnesses in the first inquest and disputed evidence.

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