At the end of April last year, 2013, Teresa Cooper was walking home from her neighbour’s house when she slipped and fell. Unconscious, she was rushed to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex, where she remained unconscious for 3 hours, during which time she suffered respiratory arrest and her heart stopped briefly.
This is the kind of unfortunate accident that can happen to anyone and as a society we all rely on the emergency services to intervene and save us in such circumstances but this is not a story of angelic medical staff and protective policemen, this is a story of what happens when systems and legislation put in place to protect seriously injured people are ignored, and worse, what happens when powerful vested interests can not be seen to admit that they have not followed their own simple rules.
Slowly coming around, Teresa Copper must have felt drowsy and confused, this is certainly not unusual for head injury patients who can often react unpredictably after regaining consciousness. Ms Cooper, on learning that she had woken up at Princess Alexandra Hospital, a place that had previously been held legally responsible for the death of her baby a decade earlier, began to take out the drips that had been inserted into her hands and she demanded to leave the hospital. A nurse, NR, who had not been responsible for her medical care, physically restrained her, a struggle ensued and the police were called in. The nurse claimed that Teresa Cooper had assaulted her by ‘pinching her thumb’. No physical evidence of such an assault was later presented and it was able to be demonstrated later that Ms Cooper was physically incapable of assaulting NR in this way.
Within 10 minutes the police had arrived, within 15 minutes a doctor had signed off that Ms Cooper was well enough to be arrested and taken from the hospital, within half an hour, after being handcuffed and dragged through the hospital half naked, she found herself in a police cell wearing nothing but the unfastened hospital gown that she had been dressed in while unconscious.
Refused a blanket, Ms Cooper was to spend the next 16 hours shivering alone in that police cell.
At what point did the police and the hospital realise that they had not followed their own procedures in regards to head injury patients and is it possible that both the police and the hospital understood that they might be open to legal action ?
Unless, of course, they could secure a criminal conviction against Ms Cooper for assault that is…
The CPS seemed extremely zealous to prosecute, ignoring the wealth of evidence which clearly demonstrated that Ms Cooper was innocent and relying heavily on suspect testimony. Added to this Ms Cooper’s then solicitor seemed extraordinarily ignorant of her client’s rights and did not submit most of the evidence which would have seen her cleared.
I had been in regular contact with Teresa in the year preceding her trial and it seemed to me that she stood alone against many powerful vested interests, with many influential contacts but I was still shocked to learn of her conviction for assault in February this year.
I was even more shocked to learn that Teresa’s barrister had advised her not to appeal.
The local newspaper carried the news that she had been convicted of assaulting a nurse splashed across it’s front page. I hope Teresa doesn’t think I’m being indiscreet if I mention just how upsetting she found this. Since it became apparent that the CPS would pursue this case regardless of the evidence, Teresa had been extremely anxious that her hard won reputation as a campaigner against child abuse would be destroyed and that everything she had worked for the last 20 years would be tarnished too. That day, the day the front page of her local newspaper carried the story of her conviction, piled on newstands for her entire local community to see, was Teresa’s nightmare come true. It might have broken a lesser person but Teresa fought back as she has always done.
Recognising that her conviction had affected the law, through legal precedent, in regard to head injury patients’ rights, Teresa contacted Headway, the brain injury charity, who immediately recognised the importance of overturning Teresa’s conviction. Headway recommended Thompsons Solicitors who were quick to appeal the conviction.
The appeal had been due to take place later this year but the appeal judge, having been presented with all the evidence felt that the conviction should be immediately overturned. The CPS did not challenge.
Teresa Cooper is innocent of the crime that she had been accused and convicted of.
Much has been omitted from this very brief account. There are still bizarre incidents that need to be explained and loose ends that need to be tied up but I think this is a fair summary for now.