Grieving families last night called for a fresh police investigation into a retired GP who they accuse of being responsible for the deaths of their elderly relatives.
Ahead of a major report into the deaths of hundreds of patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, they said they wanted 'criminal proceedings' if individuals were held to be culpable.
Dr Jane Barton, dubbed 'Dr Opiate', has been accused of prescribing fatal overdoses of opiate painkillers to elderly patients while she worked at the hospital in Hampshire. Several of those who died had been admitted to the hospital for what their relatives thought were simple, routine procedures.
A report into the affair will finally be published on Wednesday morning. It is said to have reviewed as many as 833 death certificates, the majority of which are thought to have been signed by Barton.
The deaths have already led to four police and Crown Prosecution Service probes, a General Medical Council hearing, various Health Service inquires and a special 'death audit' to find out why so many elderly patients died.
But all have failed to result in any criminal prosecution of anyone involved. It means families have been battling for two decades for answers.
Wednesday's review, which has cost £13 million, will reportedly find Barton responsible for shortening hundreds of lives through the prescription of diamorphine (heroin), a powerful painkiller. The investigation has been led by the former bishop of Liverpool James Jones, who led the Hillsborough independent panel.
Last night, families and MPs insisted that if the report found that individuals were cuplable, it must lead to a fresh police inquiry and a potential criminal prosecution. The family of Stan Carby, a former naval officer, who was just 65 when he died withing 24 hours of being admitted for rehabilitation following a series of mini-strokes, called for a full probe into Barton's actions.
His daughter, Cindy Grant, said: "The police never conducted a proper investigation into our allegations and it is time they looked at bringing criminal proceedings against those responsible. I think they ought to immediately look again at the case of Dr Jane Barton under whose care so many died."
Enid Spurgeon, then 92, was admitted to Gosport hospital after falling and fracturing her hip in March 1999. She was admitted to Haslar Hospital where the doctors operated on before being sent to Gosport for rehabilitation. But her family immediately had concerns for her welfare and she died after apparently being given powerful painkillers. Nephew, Carl Jewell, said: "Obviously something should happen and people should be held accountable."
It is unclear how many deaths the Jones panel has reviewed, but the number of suspicious deaths on Barton's watch could exceed the 92 cases previously examined by police. When asked about the forthcoming report at her Georgian townhouse in Alverstoke, Gosport, this week, Barton said: "I don't know what will be in the report, but I don't think it will be very pleasant. I've never spoken to the Press about what happened and I don't plan to now."
In an audit of care at the hospital, published by the Department of Health in 2003, a report concluded that "a practice of almost routine use of opiates before death" was in place during Barton's tenure. The report, written by Professor Richard Baker, covered the period 1988 to 2000, when Barton worked there.
The GMC investigation, completed in 2009, eight years after she was referred for a fitness to practice panel, found Barton guilty of "serious professional misconduct". It heard she had a "brusque, unfriendly and indifferent" manner and found her use of painkillers on the elderly ward was "excessive, inappropriate and potentially hazardous".
She also displayed "intransigence and a worrying lack of insight" and a "failure to recognise the limits of her professional competence".
She was banned from prescribing injectable opiates or providing palliative care but was not struck off.
Then in 2010, after reviewing the GMC findings and evidence heard at inquests into the deaths of 10 patients, the CPS concluded "the evidence is insufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for an offence of gross negligence manslaughter... in respect of each of the 10 deaths reviewed".
Barton has twice been interviewed by police under caution over the "potential homicide" of 10 patients, but never charged.
She refused to answer some questions put to her, according to a Hampshire police report.
MPs last night hit out at previous investigations for "failing" families and backed their calls for prosecutions if Wednesday's report points to any criminal activity.
Norman Lamb MP, the former health minister who established the Hillsborough-style independent panel in 2014, told the Daily Mail previous investigations appeared to suggest there was "no clinical justification" for the level of opioids administered in several cases. He said: "If it points to potential criminality there absolutely has to be a new police investigation. The families have been extraordinarily let down by the system, the NHS and regulators."
Health minister Caroline Dinenage, whose constituency covers the hospital, said the Jones panel has investigated "more deaths than they thought they would have to". She added: "Whatever they decide [including seeking prosecutions], the families will have my backing 100 per cent."
Jones will inform families of his findings in a closed session at Portsmouth Cathedral, before Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt makes a statement. Neither police nor the CPS would reveal whether they plan to re-open investigations after reading the report.
There is no suggestion Barton has committed a criminal offence. She is among several medical staff questioned over the years about the persistent allegations by relatives.
Jean, 73, was bright as a button ... two days later she was dead
Jean Stevens had entered Gosport War Memorial Hospital for rehab after a stroke at the age of 73.
She was "bright as a button" when she entered the now notorious Daedalus Ward in 1999. Yet she was quickly put on a cocktail of painkillers and sedatives and within two days was dead.
And her husband Ernest has been waiting for the truth about her death for nearly 20 years.
The Second World War veteran, now 92, said: "We had been planning a party for when she came home.
"But the next day I went in and she was just laid out. I asked a nurse what the matter with her was and she just said: 'I can't really tell you'.
"They had put her on a [drugs] pump straight away and she only opened her eyes once after that, just before she died. I truly believe my wife had quite a lot of time to go before she was put on those drugs."
Stevens is now in failing health. He suffered a serious stroke followed by a heart attack in 2012.
The great-great-grandfather, who served in the Royal Engineers and also worked as an ambulance driver, blames his fragile state on the stress of fighting for answers over his wife's death.
"I am past being angry now", he continued: "The hospital admitted they had given her an overdose, a cocktail of drugs. But I still keep going over and over it in my mind. The GMC told me it would be sorted but it has never been. This report really is the last hope. I don't feel I am going to be here much longer, and I want some answers. It has been such a long 20 years.
"So many people like me... have died without knowing the truth about what happened. It is so sad.
"My wife Jean was perfect in every way. And I know she is looking down on me."
My mother wasn't in pain but they still gave her sedatives
Gladys Richards was admitted to Gosport War Memorial Hospital in August 1998 for rehabilitation after a hip operation.
But her family became extremely concerned that very strong painkiller and sedative doses were being given to their mother even though she wasn't in pain.
Mrs Richards died in the hospital days later, aged 91. Daughter Gillian Mackenzie then became one of the first to raise concerns about the "care" patients were receiving at the hospital.
Mrs Mackenzie, now 85, said: "She wasn't in any pain at all but they tried to give her diamorphine while we were there.
"I think they wanted to keep her heavily sedated so they didn't have to look after her. It was less work for the nurses."
She said she was told by nurse manager Philip Beed: "I am going to make her life easier by giving her a shot of diamorphine." But she added: "I said 'No you will not. You are not going to give my mother diamorphine."
However, Mrs Richards was later sedated and given pain killers on a continuous basis and died five days later.
Mrs Mackenzie from Eastbourne, East Sussex, and sister Lesley O'Brien were horrified their mother died at the hospital despite being admitted for rehabilitation after a hip operation.
Mrs Mackenzie believed her mother had been unlawfully killed and reported the matter to the police and the coroner.
An investigation did not result in any charges and she decided to launch her own campaign for justice. In 2013 she was granted an inquest into the death. The coroner recorded a narrative verdict and the daughter continued on her campaign. For Mrs Mackenzie the 20 year battle for answers comes not a moment too soon. She has been battling cancer and other health problems herself and is praying she sees the day justice is done.
She said she welcomed the latest inquiry, adding: "It's been a massive cover up. The police, the coroner and lots of other people failed to take action and are all responsible. It's taken over my life. It is disgraceful."