David Fuller inquiry chair: Those culpable over mortuary abuse can be named

  • WATCH: Sir Jonathan Michael, head of the Fuller inquiry, speaks to ITV Meridian’s Sangeeta Bhabra

The chairman of the independent inquiry into the crimes of David Fuller has said that he has the “authority and ability” to name anyone who was “fundamentally culpable” in allowing the mortuary abuse to take place.

The hospital electrician targeted more than 100 female corpses in the former Kent and Sussex Hospital and the Tunbridge Wells Hospital, at Pembury, over 12 years prior to his arrest in 2020.

Responding to calls by some of the victims’ families to ‘name and shame’ anyone in the NHS who failed to prevent Fuller’s offending, Sir Jonathan told ITV News Meridian: “If we find that people have been involved in a way which was inappropriate… We can name people we wish to name if we feel they are fundamentally culpable.”

The former NHS manager has been speaking publicly this week, for the first time since he was appointed to lead the government-backed inquiry

David Fuller, from Heathfield, East Sussex, was jailed for life in 2021. Credit: Kent Police

Sir Jonathan has faced calls to quit, with some accusing him of lacking the independence required for the task, given his background working in healthcare.

But he insisted he is “confident” that he will be able to “get to the bottom of what happened” and “find out exactly how this man was able to undertake such horrific criminal activity undetected for so long”.

Last week, one victim’s daughter failed in her attempt to bring a judicial review over the current inquiry’s lack of powers.

It cannot force witnesses to give evidence or compel organisations to hand over documents, in a way a full statutory public inquiry is able to.

WATCH: Inquiry chair says he can use persuasion after criticism over lack of powers

Sir Jonathan said he did have the power of “persuasion”. He added: “People on the whole that I've talked to want to do the right thing… I have not come across anybody who’s reluctant to talk to us.”

“Anybody who is reluctant to talk to us, there are levers that we can use. There are professional responsibilities for doctors and nurses and other clinicians, there are contractual obligations that people who are employed by organisations have, and ultimately if somebody is really reluctant to talk to us and refuses to do so, I've got the authority to – the ability to – name them in the report as non-contributory.”

Fuller beat and strangled Wendy Knell, 25, and Caroline Pierce, 20, to death before sexually assaulting them in two separate attacks in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in 1987.

The hospital contractor also filmed himself abusing at least 102 corpses, including a nine-year-old girl and a 100-year-old woman. He was handed a whole life sentence for the murders, with a concurrent 12-year term for his other crimes, in December 2021.

Fuller’s hospital swipe card gave him access to parts of the morgue not covered by CCTV. Credit: Kent Police

Health Secretary Sajid Javid promised a full, independent inquiry into what happened, led by Sir Jonathan. The inquiry has previously said it does not intend to hold public evidence sessions, open to affected families and the press.

Sir Jonathan said this was because other inquiries into “healthcare problems” had found it was “often more effective” to get answers by talking to people “not in an open forum”. But he didn’t rule out the possibility of some public hearings, saying it was within his authority if he felt it would be “helpful and necessary”.

“If we come across activity which we believe is against professional ethical behaviour, or indeed is criminal, we will refer it to the appropriate authority, be it the police or be it the professional regulator,” Sir Jonathan added.

WATCH: Sir Jonathan says he can name people who were involved inappropriately 

The investigation is being carried out in two parts, with the first report focussing on Fuller’s crimes in Kent due to be published later this year.

“I am absolutely determined that we will, one way or another, get to the bottom of what happened and make recommendations to the [Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells] trust and to the wider NHS about what needs to happen to prevent such horrific things from happening again in the future,” Sir Jonathan said.

And anyone who has information they want to share with the inquiry into David Fuller's mortuary crimes is asked call 020 7972 1444 or email contact@fuller.independent-inquiry.uk