Shocking police body camera footage has revealed the brutal arrest of a father for refusing to leave the bedside of his critically ill six-year-old daughter, after doctors announced life-saving treatment would be withdrawn without the family’s consent.
The arrest led to long serving NHS respiratory consultant, Dr Rashid Abbasi, 58, having a heart attack outside his daughter’s hospital room as four police officers arrested him on 19 August 2019.
Doctors at the hospital, which cannot be named for legal reasons, called for the police to remove or arrest Dr Abbasi after they announced they would withdraw treatment and ultimately enforce end of life ‘treatment’ on his six-year-old daughter, Zainab, through extubating her.
The case, hitherto unknown to the public, is reminiscent of the high-profile tragedies of Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard.
Reluctant to treat six-year-old girl
Six-year-old Zainab was suffering from a rare life-limiting neurodegenerative condition called Niemann-Pick Disease. Unrelated to that, she also contracted swine flu at the age of two, which led to serious respiratory problems requiring treatment.
The parents believe that the doctors became increasingly reluctant to treat even the treatable respiratory problems because of her underlying life-limiting neurodegenerative disease. Fighting for her life was seen as pointless by the hospital because the genetic disease would make it likely that she would die during childhood.
This caused numerous disputes between the parents, who are both doctors, and the medical team supporting Zainab, about the appropriate intensity of treatment, culminating in the incident captured on video in August 2019.
Zainab sadly died four weeks later.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Dr Abbasi and his family have begun legal proceedings against the police for wrongful arrest and are considering legal action against the NHS.
Responding to the video footage the police have said to the Mail on Sunday that it “sets out a very different picture to the limited version of events which have been presented to us.”
Dr Abbasi said: “We have lost our daughter Zainab, but we want to take action for future Zainabs so that no one else has to go through what she did and what we have.”
‘They just want to kill her’
Shortly before the police body-cam video footage begins, Dr Abbasi and his family had been informed by the medical team responsible for Zainab’s care that they would be withdrawing life-saving treatment.
In recorded audio, Dr Abbasi can be heard saying that medical staff are trying “to kill my daughter.”
One doctor can be heard saying in the meeting that the process of withdrawing life support needs to start “straight away.”
Fearful that his daughter was being extubated in their absence from the intensive care unit, Dr Abbasi rushed back to her bedside and medical staff tried to block his way.
When Dr and Mrs Abbasi refused to consent to their daughter’s immediate extubation, the doctors tried to hand over a letter to severely restrict him from visiting his critically ill daughter. A few days earlier staff had tried to restrict his access due to claims that he was difficult but had to step down after he challenged the decision.
At Zainab’s bedside, Dr Abbasi’s wife, Dr Aliya Abbasi can be heard crying and saying: “They have made their decision already; they just want to kill her…they are going to just take the tube out. Let’s take her home.”
‘I’m having a heart attack’
The video footage begins with Dr Abbasi sitting tenderly holding his daughter’s hand with his wife and son at his side. Dr Abbasi has said that when his daughter developed the debilitating illness, she would communicate by squeezing his fingers with her little hand.
The police ask to speak to Dr Abbasi outside saying that “they have some concerns about his behaviour.” He replies quietly and calmly: “This is a lie…I don’t want to leave my daughter; my daughter is dying,” and he kisses her hand.
A six-foot police officer then approaches Dr Abbasi and says: “If you do not comply with what I am saying, there may be a necessity to place you under arrest.”
At no point, however, were the police able to produce any paperwork justifying this course of action. Police have still not produced an justification for Dr Abbasi’s arrest, despite our requesting all footage from the police officers.
As Dr Abbasi again refuses to leave, a police officer uses a metal spiked instrument to unclasp his hand from his daughter’s.
Meanwhile his wife pleads with the police and medical staff to show compassion but is then pulled by the shoulders away from the bedside and falls and screams in distress.
Alarmed at what is happening to his wife, Dr Abbasi shouts “what are you doing to my wife?” Two officers then drag him from the bedside and onto the floor.
A struggle follows with four police officers and Dr Abbasi breathlessly shouts: “I’ve got chest pains; I’m having a heart attack” and urgently asks for the medicine in his pocket to relieve his angina.
His repeated requests, however, are ignored by the police and he is instead told that he is ‘disgusting’ and is an ‘animal’ who has brought it all on himself. The police handcuff him, kick him, strap his legs together, dump him on a trolley and wheel him out of the unit.
Dr Abbasi is then taken to A&E where he is later de-arrested. Medical records later confirm that he had indeed had a heart attack. His health has not been right since. The day following the arrest he had to have an emergency procedure, and has since had two more.
Following his arrest and heart attack, Dr Abbasi was only allowed back to see Zainab under harsh restrictions. This included a two-hour visiting window where he was escorted throughout the building and was prevented from questioning or challenging the care his daughter was receiving.
Despite the threat of Zainab being immediately extubated, this did not escalate further, but instead the steroid treatment she needed to survive was slowly withdrawn.
On 29 August 2019, the Hospital made an application to the High Court for an order authorising a withdrawal of life support.
The trial was listed for 19-20 September 2019 and the Court imposed an anonymity order to prohibit identification of the parties in any reporting of the case.
On 15 September 2019, Zainab’s condition deteriorated. The parents secured two emergency telephone hearings before Mr Justice Cohen, where they argued for an escalation of life-saving steroid treatment which had been reduced.
The application was refused, and Zainab died the following morning.
‘I was treated like a criminal’
The Abbasi family say that there was a ‘toxic environment’ surrounding the medical care of their daughter.
Dr Abbasi said: “I reacted as any father would who is suffering from grief, but I also knew in my professional capacity that my daughter was purposefully not receiving the treatment she needed to live.
“For challenging this and trying to protect my daughter’s life, I was treated like a criminal and an animal. This was brutal and unacceptable, but we want to emphasise that it was the doctors and the hospital who escalated the situation and involved the police unnecessarily.
“Ultimately, this story is about life and the value the NHS places on life and the wishes and rights of the parents involved.
“We are still grieving deeply, but we have no choice but to expose what has happened and to fight for justice for our daughter.
“We insist that what happened to Zainab should be rigorously investigated by an independent and impartial tribunal.”
‘Culture of death must be exposed’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Any parent or indeed anyone who has ever lost a loved one will be deeply moved and appalled by this story. You could not find more caring and loving parents who simply wanted their daughter to have a chance to continue to live.
“The family showed an extraordinary amount of restraint in the face of their brutal treatment by the police and the hospital. They genuinely feared that their only daughter, their youngest child was about to die.
“Can you imagine how in such a moment it would feel to be treated as they were?
“The whole system needs a major overhaul. These tragic cases occur in a shroud of secrecy. Nothing breaks through because of the way in which the law operates to prevent close and open inspection and accountability. Parents are expected to navigate a complicated system weighted against them. It is almost impossible. This has to change.
“Sadly, the culture of death has resulted in more and more of this type of story, from Alfie Evans to Charlie Gard, where deeply disturbing decisions have been made by treating clinicians, police and the courts. The family, in their grief, have the whole legal machinery tumble down on them and no one advocating for them during the most harrowing life experience anyone could imagine.
“At a time when the parents need support and compassion, they are met with a court order to extubate their child meaning certain death. The order is enforced by judges and the police and backed up by medical establishment opinion.
“Why is it that time and time again when parents resist end of life treatment being imposed on their children, the police swiftly appear?
“We are living in a culture of death, and when our society and frontline services unilaterally decide that death is in a child’s best interest, and the parents are left powerless in the face of the ‘system’, it has to be exposed.
“We will stand every step of the way with families at the point when they have needed compassion and support most but have received the opposite. We will help the Abbasi family to seek justice.”