Heather Bills' primary nurse, a suspect in an open police homicide investigation, says she is still shaken by the mysterious death of her patient, an inquest has heard.

Bills, a 64-year-old grandma, died at Middlemore Hospital on January 2, 2013, six weeks after she was badly burned in an explosive house fire.

It was later discovered that she suffered a suspicious and massive hypoglycaemia-related cerebral injury.

Three hospital staff members have been listed in police documents as suspects in the still-open investigation.


On the evening of November 22, 2012, Bills was pulled from the blaze at her Orakei, Auckland, home by neighbours.

The fire was deliberately lit and she suffered burns to 35 per cent of her body.

She was then treated at the National Burns Centre and intensive care as her condition improved at Middlemore.

Michelle Maher (right), Heather Bills' daughter, says her family deserves to know what happened to her mum. Photo / Michael Craig
Michelle Maher (right), Heather Bills' daughter, says her family deserves to know what happened to her mum. Photo / Michael Craig

However, Bills' health quickly deteriorated on December 26-27, as confused doctors tried to save her.

After an investigation it was discovered that Bills died as a result of higher levels of insulin, "introduced to her body from the outside".

Registered nurse Harmeet Sokhi was Bills' primary nurse during a 7pm to 7am shift on Boxing Day, 2012.

She said she had cared for Bills two to three times, but medical records show that she cared for Bills on eight occasions, the court heard.

Sokhi said that during her shift she could "hear beeps from machines going off in Heather's room".

"The beeps were loud enough to be heard from the corridor," Sokhi told the court today.

However, her evidence directly contradicts the testimony of health care assistant Sharon Connors, who said yesterday that "the beeps appeared normal".

Connors, also a police suspect, was working a four-hour shift from 7pm to 11pm, keeping an eye on the burns patient who had expressed suicidal thoughts.

"I did not see any need to raise an alarm or call other staff for help," Connors told the court yesterday.

The machines are designed to get louder if the problem with the patient is not rectified.

When Connors may have taken a brief break is also contradicted by the two women's evidence.

Swipe card records show Connors re-entered the burns unit at 8.42pm, but Sokhi said the time was later in the night.

Sokhi also said she gave Bills a bed bath between 9pm and 10pm, but Connors has told the court she can't recall any such treatment.

However, when Sokhi entered Bills' room she said she found Connors "oblivious" to the fact that three of the machines were beeping.

She said Bills' oxygen valve was not connected and the patient's oxygen levels were low.

Chief coroner Judge Deborah Marshall is presiding over the inquest to find the source of the insulin dose. Photo / Michael Craig
Chief coroner Judge Deborah Marshall is presiding over the inquest to find the source of the insulin dose. Photo / Michael Craig

Connors, however, said she couldn't recall the beeping being of concern.

"I can't remember, machines do make noises but that [Sokhi's description] sounds terrible," she said.

"I didn't seem concerned about Heather, I'm sure if there was anything untoward I would've rung the [emergency] bell," Connors said.

Sokhi estimated the beeping had been continuing for about two to three minutes, based on the volume of the noise.

"It seemed a little odd that Heather did not respond to the beeps," Sokhi said.

"She wasn't concerned and wasn't complaining."

When Sokhi began to treat Bills the burns patient "opened her eyes and smiled", she said.

This was the first time Bills had smiled in the times Sokhi had treated her, the court heard.

Heath care assistant Nirmala Salim, the third police suspect, took over from Connors at 11pm.

Moments later Bills woke and began to "moan and groan", Salim said.

"I noticed that her heart rate reading was abnormal, and that her heart rate was raised. I asked her what was wrong but she did not answer me."

Salim rang the nurses' bell about 11.15pm, and Sokhi came into room.

"[Sokhi] told me that usually the patient is like that. I told [Sokhi], 'no', the heart rate is a little high, that I could not take responsibility for that, and so she said she would be back in a few minutes," Salim said.

"After 10 minutes, I saw that Heather was getting worse and her pulse was going high, and she was still unresponsive."

Bills' heart rate had spiked to 145 beats per minute.

"I could tell she was different and I was concerned that something was wrong," Salim said, then decided to ring the emergency nurses' green bell at about 11.30pm.

When Sokhi returned, she said she could see Bills was sweating heavily, her condition clearly deteriorating rapidly, the court heard.

After midnight Bills looked "confused" and was slurring her speech, Sokhi said.

Bills' also had "big bulging eyes" and was "not obeying any commands".

As the 64-year-old's condition worsened Sokhi said she conducted a blood sugar test with a glucometer, without the direction of one of the now-assisting doctors.

The nurse performed the test because Bills "seemed like she had a low blood sugar" based on her symptoms, she said.

Growing emotional on the witness stand, Sokhi told the court she was "still shaken" by Bills' catastrophic deterioration and eventual death.

"I have tried my best to recall all that happened," she said, crying.

"So much happened then and so much time has passed since then."


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
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