An independent inquiry will look into how murderer David Fuller went undetected in sexually abusing 100 corpses in hospital mortuaries, the UK government has said.
Hospital electrician Fuller admitted murdering then sexually assaulting two women decades before carrying out dozens of sex attacks on corpses in mortuaries over more than a decade.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the offences committed at the hospital, and their national implications.
Penalties available for “appalling” sexual offences will be re-examined to ensure they are appropriate following the case, he said.
Mr Javid, who apologised to the friends and family of the victims, said the hospital trust involved has already initiated an independent investigation, and thanked it for the steps taken so far.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, he told MPs: “Given the scale and the nature of these sexual offences, I believe that we must go further.
“Today I can announce that I am replacing the trust investigation with an independent inquiry.
“The inquiry will look into the circumstances surrounding the offences committed at the hospital, and their national implications.
“It will help us understand how these offences took place without detection in the trust, identify any areas where early action by this trust was necessary, and then consider wider national issues, including for the NHS.”
Jonathan Michael, an experienced NHS chief executive, will lead the inquiry.
Mr Javid said it will be split into two parts – the first being an interim report expected “early in the new year”.
He added: “The second (will be) a final report looking at the broader national picture and the wider lessons for the NHS and for other settings.”
Mr Javid said the terms of reference will be published in “due course” and the chairman will hold talks with families and others.
The Health Secretary told the Commons: “We have a responsibility to everyone affected by these shocking crimes to do right by those we’ve lost and those still left behind in their shock and their grief.
“Nothing we can say in this place will undo the damage that has been done, but we must act to make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again.”
It was also said that support had been put in place for the families of the 100 victims of Fuller, as well as for staff affected by the crimes.
Mr Javid said: “Officers have tragically found evidence of 100 victims. Of these victims, 81 have been formally identified and specially trained family liaison officers have been supporting their families. Every family of a known victim has been contacted.
“I know how distressing the details of these offences will be for many people. The local NHS trust has put arrangements in place to support staff who have been affected and, regardless of whether someone has been directly impacted by these offences or not, they can access the resources that are available on the My Support Space website.
“This is a profoundly upsetting case that has involved distressing offences within the health service. The victims are not just those family members and friends who have been abused in this most horrific of ways, they are also those that are left behind.”
Fuller (67) has pleaded guilty to murdering Wendy Knell (25) and Caroline Pierce (20), in two separate attacks in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in 1987.
Identified victims included three children under the age of 18 and others older than 85 between 2008 and November 2020.
Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, who had previously called for an inquiry, said it should address worries about other unauthorised access to mortuaries across the NHS.
Mr Clark added: “It is important that the House understands the need for this, as well as brutally murdering two young women, Fuller raped the dead bodies of over 100 girls and women.
“Their identities are known and that means that their families have been informed, and the shock and the desolation that these families are going through is beyond imagination.
“That’s why the inquiry is so important, because it can never be allowed to happen again.”
Shadow health secretary and Labour MP Jon Ashworth said Fuller’s crimes were “unspeakably vile” and “horrific”, and pledged to work with Mr Javid on the matter.
Conservative MP Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) said: “For my constituents affected, nothing is ever going to take away the pain and the trauma.
“I hope this will at least provide them some comfort and assurance that this will never happen again.
“When David Fuller was first employed, DBS checks did not exist.
“And subsequent checks failed to pick up his previous convictions.”
She asked for assurances “that this will be looked at as part of the inquiry”, and asked Mr Javid to look at this “for the wider NHS to ensure that people with convictions do not have access to sensitive areas of NHS trusts”.
The Health Secretary replied: “Yes, I can absolutely give that assurance.”