Observer Comment: Mysteries surrounding Vicky’s death will probably never be solved

IN 2008, the murder of Vicky Couchman made headlines in most of the national newspapers - this week the inquest of her Dad Tony - the prime suspect in the investigation - passed with barely a mention.

It was the most unsatisfactory conclusion to this extraordinary story.

Mr Couchman’s lonely suicide in a prison cell just days before the trial was due to begin means the mysteries surrounding Vicky’s death will probably never be solved.

Mr Couchman was determined to prove his innocence, but chose for some reason not to have his day in court. The police spent a lot of time and effort building their case to try and explain how this pretty single mum came to be killed in cold blood and her bones scattered in St Leonards woodland. That case will never see the light of day.

As a friend of the family said last year: “Where’s the justice now?”

The coroner was right to refuse any evidence relating to the case against Mr Couchman - trial by inquest would have been utterly unfair.

So it is Lewes Prison bosses who have the most questions to answer. Nobody would suggest that looking after prisoners is easy, but they must make sure everything possible is done to keep inmates safe.

The Couchman family and the community needed that trial to take place, to convict or clear Mr Couchman as a jury saw fit. Instead the only jury called was for an inquest - one of the final chapters of a tragic story under which a line will never now be drawn.

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SOME readers criticised the Observer’s decision publish news of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) damning report of the Conquest in May.

Many people said we were too negative and that the care they had received at the hospital was superb. No doubt in many cases that is true. The staff certainly work hard in often difficult circumstances.

But the fact the CQC has now given the trust which runs the Conquest a September 2 deadline to improve shows we were right to highlight it. The chief executive Darren Grayson said things were already improving by the time our original story ran. The CQC this week says those improvements have not been rapid enough.

Two of the three warning notices have been lifted, which is obviously encouraging. But the fact inspectors still found cause enough to doubt the care the hospital is providing is worrying.

The Conquest has been warned it could be stripped of services if things do not improve. Considering the struggles the people of this town went through to fight for maternity and A&E up on The Ridge it would be nothing short of a disgrace if lacklustre standards ended up costing Hastings services it so desperately needs.

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THE news that William Parker’s bid for a new gymnastics centre was successful is a great boost to the town.

With the Olympics coming up fast on the horizon, interest in sport across the UK is likely to skyrocket. Here in Hastings locals do not enjoy the glutton of facilities found in other towns, so a new £28,000 state-of-the-art facility is very welcome - especially as it will be open to everyone, not just the pupils at William Parker.

Elsewhere, a survey has found more and more people in Hastings are getting off the sofa and getting active. If that upwards trend continues it is vital the town has the facilities to cope with the demand.

Hopefully, by the next time the Olympics come round this way, Hastings might have people striving to compete rather than just scrambling for tickets.