You may recall, last summer (July 2016), the Coroner conducting the Inquest in to the death of Richard Westgate decided (in relation to scope of the Inquest) that Article 2 was not engaged. This means he did not accept the family’s assertions that there have been failures:
(a) to legislate to enforce duties in aviation – both negative and positive duties;
(b) to properly distinguished between duties of the HSE and the CAA – and further resulting in a legal lacuna (actually first arising at European level);
(c) in that the CAA is a light touch regulator (misunderstanding its obligations and duties);
The Coroner decided that is was not sufficient for the family to demonstrate injury from exposure to Organophosphates (contained in aircraft engine oil/hydraulic fluid) and for this to be sufficient, to mean that an arguable breach of Article 2 had occurred. For (not least) these reasons the Coroner’s view was: whether or not in life in the period of months or years before his death the deceased was suffering from an illness caused by exposure to organophosphates (‘aerotoxicity’) in the course of this employment as a commercial pilot is not a proper issue to be the subject of the Inquest. It is important to understand that by this ruling the Coroner did not suggest that (a) aerotoxicity was not a real phenomenon or that (b) Richard Westgate was not suffering from its effects; merely that he was simply not going to deal with those issues in the Inquest. It was against this backdrop that the Inquest commenced on 5th April 2017. However, for parts of the Inquest, the family were, in fact, allowed to put a limited number of questions on these issues.
During the Inquest oral evidence was heard from a number of medical experts (appointed by the Coroner) to supplement their prior written reports. The Neurologist, in particular, could not rule out exposure to OP as a causative factor (however remote) in the conditions with which Richard Westgate ultimately suffered prior to his death. The Neurologist was clear that there is not sufficient evidence base to conclude beyond this, and that this area was ‘crying out’ for further research in respect of these agents for both high and low level exposure. In simple terms, he agreed that it was not absurd or ridiculous to suggest that exposure to OP could have played a role in the conditions observed.
Richard Westgate suffered with a range of debilitating symptoms from the conditions suffered, which, sadly and quite remarkably, remained undiagnosed until after his death. Whilst suffering with these conditions, Richard’s death was ultimately caused by an unintentional overdose of sedative.
Whilst BA and the CAA had worked hard to ensure that workplace exposures were not considered by the Coroner during this Inquest, it was clear to all that OP and chemical exposures could not be ruled out as a cause of injury and harm. Various experts are quite sure the effects and findings reported were likely chemical in origin and fitted the profile often reported. The lack of medical support and diagnostic tools was very evident and very sad. Unite and the GCAQE agree: this is something that must be resolved.
The family are actively pursuing the next stage of the legal process, namely formulating claims against Richard Westgate’s former employers. To that end, Unite has agreed to bring the case in to the cohort of current Unite claims led by Thompsons Solicitors (retaining existing Counsel) also instructed in respect of the Inquest in to the death of Matthew Bass and other claims. This is a positive development, stream-lining the entire legal team.