Probe into EIGHT deaths on the same NHS ward nurses drugged patients

Coroner is probing EIGHT deaths on the same NHS ward where pair of ‘dangerous and callous’ nursing staff drugged and ill-treated patients – and now face jail

  • READ: Appalling WhatsApp messages of cruel nurses guilty of sedating patients

A coroner is probing eight deaths on the same NHS ward where a pair of ‘dangerous and callous’ nursing staff drugged and ill-treated patients, the Mail can reveal.

Catherine Hudson was convicted of sedating victims – in some cases to keep them ‘quiet and compliant’ and in others ‘out of spite’.

The 54-year-old senior nurse drugged two patients for an ‘easy life’ at the unit, which was described as having ‘a culture of abuse’, in April 2017 and November 2018, her trial heard.

She swapped vile messages with her partner in crime, Charlotte Wilmot, including one in which Hudson boasted of sedating an elderly patient ‘to within an inch of her life’. The nurses were warned that they both face jail.

They also stole medication from the ‘corrupt’ ward at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, with the trial hearing claims that ’95 per cent of the staff’ would take drugs from the unit, sometimes on a recreational basis. 

Catherine Hudson (left), 54, and Charlotte Wilmot (right), 48, pictured leaving Preston Crown Court

The Mail can reveal that the coroner is probing eight unrelated deaths on the same ward that Hudson and Wilmot were guilty of drugging patients. Pictured: Blackpool Victoria Hospital

After nearly 14 hours of deliberation, jurors at Preston Crown Court convicted Hudson and 48-year-old Wilmot of conspiring to administer a sedative to a third patient in 2017.

READ MORE: Appalling WhatsApp messages of cruel nurses Catherine Hudson and Charlotte Wilmot who sedated stroke patients for their ‘own amusement’ and an ‘easy life’ – as they are found guilty of unlawfully drugging them 

It can now be revealed that during the probe an unrelated murder inquiry was launched over the death of a grandmother on the unit.

Valerie Kneale, 75, bled to death after being assaulted – possibly sexually – by what detectives fear is a ‘predator’ days after they were called in to investigate allegations of poisoning in November 2018. 

Eight more deaths of patients who were treated on the ward will now be probed by the coroner, the Mail can reveal.

Neither Hudson nor Wilmot – an assistant practitioner charged with supporting senior nurses – has been accused of causing any deaths or deterioration of patients. It means that almost five years on from the bombshell launch of a huge police probe into whether elderly patients were poisoned on the 49-bed unit, the full extent of the harm caused remains unknown.

As Hudson was remanded in custody and warned she faces a lengthy prison sentence, the son of one of the patients mistreated by her branded her cruel messages ‘absolute pure evil’.

Brian Scott, whose mother Aileen recovered sufficiently to speak detectives, said: ‘My mum had a haemorrhagic stroke and was paralysed – she was no nuisance to nurses in that hospital. She couldn’t do anything and she relied on them for her care and support.’

He told Sky News his mother was ‘still not well at this time, but she’s delighted to hear that justice has been done – it’s a great outcome’.

During the trial, the jury heard staff routinely stole drugs and made cruel jokes about the vulnerable patients in their care.

It can now be revealed that during the probe an unrelated murder inquiry was launched over the death of a grandmother on the unit. Valerie Kneale (pictured), 75, bled to death after being assaulted – possibly sexually – by what detectives fear is a ‘predator’ days after they were called in to investigate allegations of poisoning in November 2018. 

Hudson sedated numerous hospital patients including Aileen Scott (pictured) who is from Glasgow but was on holiday in Blackpool

Hudson (left) and Wilmot (right) were convicted at Preston Crown Court on Thursday afternoon

Pictured are Hudson (right) and Wilmot (left) exchanged messages joking about sedating their patients

Judge Robert Altham remanded Catherine Hudson (pictured) into custody following the verdicts, which were reached after nearly 14 hours of deliberation

When two patients became agitated or ‘hard work’, Hudson would administer sedatives to make the lives of herself and her colleagues easier – despite the potentially fatal consequences.

The court heard there was ‘a culture of abuse’, with staff able to help themselves to zopiclone, a sedative, and other drugs for their own use or to dose patients.

A WhatsApp group chat included messages packed with expletives and callous emojis about sedating patients. In one text message to a colleague about a patient she was convicted of ill-treating, Hudson wrote: ‘I sedated one of them to within an inch of her life lol [laugh out loud]. Bet she’s flat for a week haha xxx.’

Wilmot also wrote that a ‘very f****** annoying’ elderly female patient should be given ‘the best sleep she ever had’.

Hudson replied ‘permanently’ accompanied by laughing emojis and kisses.

The woman’s daughter made three complaints about the standard of care but received no reply.

Detectives discovered that more than 1,000 zoplicone tablets, a powerful sedative which can be fatal if wrongly administered, were dispensed by the hospital pharmacy for use on the stroke unit over a two-month period in 2018. By contrast, just 207 of those were recorded as having been prescribed, and 222 of them administered – raising the question of what happened to the rest, and how controls could have been so lax.

Hudson and Wilmot another disturbing exchange in April that year when Hudson joked that a patient in bed 29 had was doing ‘not a f***ing lot’ because she had sedated her two days in row

Peter Wright KC, prosecuting, said an internal review had found the process of supplying zopiclone was ‘so lax as to be virtually incapable of being correctly audited or safely administered’.

Once the investigation started, transactions involving zopiclone ‘fell off a cliff’, he added.

In November 2018 a student nurse who was on placement at the stroke unit blew the whistle on the cruelty.

The following day Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the 767-bed general hospital, called in Lancashire Police, and within days three nurses were arrested.

Drugs such as Zopiclone were stolen and used to drug patients. Police have released pictures of the medication 

Zopiclone (pictured by police) was used to sedate patients for their ‘own amusement’ and an ‘easy life’. Some they didn’t like were also drugged

In the witness box, Hudson insisted her cruel messages were ‘banter’ and ‘gallows humour’ sparked by chronic understaffing. She claimed she was a devoted nurse who had chosen to work in the facility after her father suffered a series of strokes. 

During the investigation, police examined the deaths of eight patients – in addition to Mrs Kneale – who died after being treated on the unit, with at least one funeral cancelled as a result.

No one has been charged and there is no suggestion that Hudson and Wilmot were in any way responsible. The cases are now being probed by Blackpool coroner Alan Wilson.

He adjourned all the hearings until after Hudson and Wilmot’s trial, with inquests expected to be concluded over the coming months.

The court heard that prescription restrictions were lax in the stroke unit and that staff would sometimes help themselves to drugs to self-medicate or supply others. WhatsApp messages between Hudson and an unnamed colleague seemingly revealed that she was among those taking and distributing drugs without permission

Hudson apparently admitted to giving the drug to patients in a text to a family member

Judge Robert Altham, honorary recorder of Preston, remanded Hudson in custody, saying she faced certain imprisonment. He granted Wilmot bail but told her the ‘overwhelming likelihood’ was that she too would be jailed.

The pair, both from Blackpool, will be sentenced in December. Both face life bans from nursing.

Last night Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust apologised and said it had introduced new procedures to monitor medication. The stroke unit has been reduced in size by ten beds, with a higher ratio of staff to patients.

Detective Chief Inspector Jill Johnston of Lancashire Police said Hudson and Wilmot were both fully aware of the risks of using sedatives, making their behaviour ‘even harder to comprehend’.

Police launch murder inquiry into the death of 75-year-old woman 

By James Tozer 

A police probe into allegations of poisoning on the Blackpool stroke unit escalated dramatically when police launched a murder inquiry into the death of 75-year-old Valerie Kneale.

Horrifically it emerged that the previously active grandmother had bled to death after being assaulted – possibly sexually.

Detectives warned of a suspected ‘predator’ who could strike again.

The murder inquiry, which is unrelated to the probe into the ill treatment of patients, has seen police interview thousands of people, including ward staff and visitors.

Despite a Crimewatch appeal and the offer of a £20,000 reward, the only suspect arrested over the killing has been eliminated from the inquiry.

Mrs Kneale, who lived with her husband Bill in the Lancashire seaside town of Knott End-on-Sea, was admitted to the stroke unit on November 12, 2018, after falling ill.

It can now be revealed that during the probe an unrelated murder inquiry was launched over the death of a grandmother on the unit. Valerie Kneale (pictured), 75, bled to death after being assaulted – possibly sexually – by what detectives fear is a ‘predator’ days after they were called in to investigate allegations of poisoning in November 2018

‘She was checked over and she was doing OK,’ her niece, Lisa Jaffier, later told Crimewatch Live. ‘She was sat up, she was communicating, she was talking. Obviously she was going to have challenges in her recovery but we were all very hopeful of a positive outcome.

‘Her children wanted to stay with her that evening but the hospital said really she’s in the best place she could be in, there’s really no need, she’s going to be absolutely fine.’

After she unexpectedly took a turn for the worse, doctors told her children she was not going to recover and they agreed she should not receive any further treatment.

But following her death on November 16 a pathologist discovered during a routine post-mortem examination that she had suffered a horrific internal injury, and police were informed.

The murder inquiry was launched in February 2019. An inquest later heard that the pathologist ‘felt’ that Mrs Kneale’s internal injury ‘was caused by a forcible sexual assault after she was admitted to hospital’.

A healthcare professional was arrested on suspicion of murdering Mrs Kneale in 2021 but he was later eliminated from the investigation.

In March this year the £20,000 reward was offered to catch her killer as police revealed their fears that the murderer could strike again. ‘There’s a real worry to the investigation and to the hospital that this could be just one of a number of attacks,’ said Detective Chief Inspector Jill Johnston of Lancashire Police.

‘This may be at the hands of somebody who is a predator and who may have committed previous attacks of this nature and may continue to do so. The fact this has happened in a hospital setting is of grave concern to everyone and we’ve worked tirelessly along with the hospital to get justice for Mrs Kneale and her family.

‘But also to stop this ever happening again. So we need to identify who’s responsible.’

At the same time Mrs Kneale’s family told how they ‘can’t even begin to heal’ from learning the ‘horrible’ way she died until her killer is caught.

‘When she went into hospital you believe she’s going to be safe, going to be looked after,’ her niece told the BBC’s Crimewatch. ‘To think that somebody did that – it’s horrible.

‘To think that someone did that to a lovely person at a time when she was helpless, at her most vulnerable, where she couldn’t shout out, she couldn’t defend herself…

‘We’re left with a huge wound that can’t even begin to heal until we find out who’s responsible for doing that so that we can get justice.’ There have been no further arrests.

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