A Hartlepool woman has spoken of her devastation at the revelation her grandfather’s brain has been kept at a North East hospital for almost 20 years.
Kayleigh Bayliss’ family had believed William Cowell was buried intact - but have now been told the heart-breaking truth.
It comes as specially-trained officers from Cleveland Police are visiting 13 families after human tissue samples were discovered at South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields during an audit in March 2015.
Tissue samples can be retained for criminal justice and for a coroner carrying out an inquest, and in this case they date back over the course of the last 20 years.
Sixty-three-year-old Mr Cowell died in November 1997 after he hit his head following an alleged altercation over a taxi.
Kayleigh said the family had always known a post-mortem examination had been carried out but had assumed any organs which had been removed in the course of it had been returned.
I can’t understand why you would not tell the family you were keeping something like that out of the body. We buried him assuming he was whole again.Kayleigh Bayliss
“Granda died 19 years ago. He fell and hit his head,” she said.
“His brain was totally dead so they had to turn the machine off, then they did a post mortem. “We knew they had done an exam, but we did not realise they had kept his brain.
“They took his brain out to do the post mortem. We buried my Granda, assuming they had put it back.
“Now they are telling us it has been sitting in South Tyneside Hospital for 19 years.
“I was devastated.”
Police initially contacted Kayleigh’s aunt Barbara Cowell, rather than her grandmother Rose, now 81. Kayleigh heard the news from her cousin Rachael Hodgson.
“They phoned my aunt first because my Nana is old and they did not think she could have coped with it,” she said.
“I could not believe it when my cousin phoned me - I laughed at her because I thought she was joking.”
The family has signed a form, releasing Mr Cowell’s remains for cremation: “They were asking if we want it to be buried with him,” said Kayleigh.
“They offered to pay for another service, which we did not want because we have already grieved for him.”
The fact it was Mr Cowell’s brain which had been retained had been particularly upsetting, said Kayleigh.
“My Granda was a really intelligent man. I do not think it would have been so bad if it ha been any other organ,” she said.
They have been told there was no legal obligation for the pathologist to obtain consent to keep body parts at the time of Mr Cowell’s inquest.
“We want to look further into that,” said Kayleigh.
“I can’t understand why you would not tell the family you were keeping something like that out of the body. We buried him assuming he was whole again.
“We did not know about them having kept his brain for any reason.”
Officers from Cleveland Police are visiting 13 families of deceased loved-ones following the revelations.
A spokesman for Cleveland Police said previously: “We knew that this news would come as a shock to the families involved and so we decided that it was only right that specially-trained officers visited them to give them the news in person.
“We will continue to work with Northumbria Police, the hospital, the coroner and the families to make sure that there is dignity afforded to the dead.”
Before 2010 it became apparent that human tissue samples going back many years may have been retained by police forces and hospitals across the country following post-mortem examinations.
All police forces in 2010 conducted an audit of their holdings of tissue samples in their areas.
In line with other forces, Cleveland Police audited hospitals in its force area and no samples were identified.
In 2016, Northumbria Police informed Cleveland Police that a number of human tissue samples had been identified at South Tyneside District Hospital.
The samples related to cases from across the North East.
It is understood that the samples were taken to the hospital by a pathologist who covered a large area of the North East and who had worked from the site over a number of years.
Specially-trained Cleveland Police officers are in the process of visiting the 13 families involved in their force area and will be working with them to make sure that their wishes are carried out regarding their loved ones.