Bereaved family feared they buried wrong body due pathologist

Bereaved family say they feared they had buried wrong body due to errors in post-mortem report by discredited pathologist who also missed evidence in Michael Barrymore pool death

  • Dr Michael Heath carried out a post-mortem examination on Ann House, 74
  • Referred to her gallbladder in his report – which she’d had removed years earlier
  • Mrs House’s family are demanding to know why the pathologist was able to work
  • Work was called into question amid concerns over findings in high-profile cases
  • Did post-mortems in Moors murders, Kenneth Noye and Stuart Lubbock deaths

A bereaved family feared they had ‘laid the wrong body to rest’ due to errors in a post-mortem report compiled by a discredited pathologist.

The relatives of Ann House are demanding a probe after Dr Michael Heath conducted a post-mortem on the 74-year-old, despite numerous failings and complaints about his evidence.  

Dr Heath was at the helm of forensic investigations in thousands of major criminal cases, including the victims of Moors murderer Myra Hindley. 

But in 2001 his work came under scrutiny when his findings in the death of Stuart Lubbock – the man found dead in entertainer Michael Barrymore’s swimming pool -differed from those of other pathologists. 

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

Alistair House, from Salfords in Surrey, is now demanding to know why the pathologist was able to carry out a post-mortem examination on his mother, Ann House.

Mr House claims Dr Heath made ‘significant’ mistakes in the report, including incorrectly referring to Ms House’s gallbladder – which had been removed five years earlier. 

The family of Ann House are distressed after pathologist Dr Michael Heath’s post-mortem exam which allegedly contained ‘significant’ errors

Pathologist Dr Michael Heath (pictured outside the Epping Forest Coroner’s Office) is under fresh investigation

Dr Heath carried out the post-mortem on 32-year-old Stuart Lubbock (pictured), who was found dead in Michael Barrymore’s pool in Roydon, Essex, in 2001

Litany of failings in high-profile cases led to scrutiny of top pathologist 

Dr Michael Heath carried out the post-mortem on 32-year-old Stuart Lubbock who was found dead in Michael Barrymore’s pool in Roydon, Essex, in 2001.

He claimed Mr Lubbock had drowned which meant police did not search Mr Barrymore’s home for several weeks.

Weeks later three other pathologists agreed his injuries showed he died of asphyxia, possibly from having an arm clamped round his throat during a sexual assault. 

In 2006 the Home Office Advisory Board found Dr Heath bungled post-mortem examinations of two women, leading to their partners being accused of murder.

Steven Puaca was jailed in 2002 for killing Jacqueline Tindsley.

But his conviction was quashed in November 2005 when the Court of Appeal heard there was not enough evidence to support Dr Heath’s conclusion she had died of asphyxia.

Kenneth Fraser, accused of murdering Mary Anne Moore, was cleared in 2002 by a jury at a trial.

Dr Heath said her death was not caused by falling down stairs but by impact with a sharp object, contrary to four other pathologists, according to The Telegraph. 

And unreliability of Dr Heath’s evidence led to an appeal being granted for road rage killer Kenneth Noye, which later failed. 

The House family are demanding to know why Dr Heath was able to carry out the work on behalf of the Surrey Coroner’s Office, despite previous questions over the reliability of his evidence. 

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

She died at the hospital on August 10, aged 74, and a post-mortem exam was carried out by Dr Heath in August 2020. 

But Mr House claims the report did not match his mother’s clinical history, and identified an organ that had been removed years ago.

Her son said: ‘When we first read the report, it is fair to say we really questioned if it was the right body that the post-mortem took place on, to the point that we questioned ‘have we put the right body to rest? 

‘There [was a body part] notified on the post-mortem report that my mother had had removed.

‘There were statements made about the physical fitness of her; she was less than 50kg when she passed and [Dr Heath] made a comment about her body being well nourished.

‘My main concern is this individual has this track record of significant issues yet he is still able to carry on. If I have identified these mistakes, how many other ones has he made?’ 

Mr House added: ‘She was originally hospitalised for a perforated gastric ulcer, and there were comments made that there was no sign of any surgical intervention on the stomach – but she had a gastric bypass in 2013. 

‘She also had her gallbladder removed in 2016 and there was reference made to a healthy gallbladder on the post-mortem report.’

Despite the GMC finding Dr Heath guilty of serious misconduct in 2009, he continued making reports as a registered doctor, including on behalf of the Surrey coroner. 

In a statement issued by Dr Heath after the discrepancies were raised, he admitted he had incorrectly stated that he’d seen a gallbladder.

Dr Heath wrote: ‘Because of the complicated surgery in this case, what I observed was clearly not the gallbladder. The important aspect of this error is that it was not a contributing factor in the cause of death.’ 

In March this year he was subject to a new investigation by the GMC and a series of stringent conditions were placed upon his licence to practice. 

The GMC said it could not comment on ongoing investigations, but it is understood that conditions are only placed when allegations are serious enough that, if proven, would mean the doctor poses a threat to patients or the public. 

Surrey County Council has since ‘paused’ Dr Heath’s work for the coroner.  

Ann House, 74, passed away in August last year – but now her family are demanding answers following a post-mortem report

A spokesperson on behalf of the council and coroner’s service said: ‘We apologise to Mrs House’s family for any distress and we send our condolences.

‘Pathologists are not employed by the council, they are independent experts instructed by the coroner which is a judicial decision.

‘Dr Heath is still a practising pathologist licensed by the GMC. In this case, the inaccuracies described did not impact the outcome of the post-mortem examination.

‘The coroner is committed to running a high quality service and inaccuracies are not acceptable. The coroner has previously apologised to Mrs House’s family.’  

Dr Heath, although under investigation, remains GMC registered with a licence to practise, subject to the conditions. 

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