THE family of an elderly woman who died after being given cleaning fluid to drink in hospital are appealing for help to fund legal representation at her inquest.

Joan Blaber, 85, from Hoopers Close, Lewes, was admitted to hospital in Brighton after suffering a small stroke in September last year.

Her family said she was recovering well before being given Flash floor cleaner to drink instead of orange juice.

She died several days later at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

Now her family have started an online campaign to fund a legal team at a jury inquest expected to last two weeks.

The hospital where Mrs Blaber died will be represented at the inquest in Brighton later this year.

Sussex Police admitted at a pre-inquest review hearing last month they have not ruled out the possibility Mrs Blaber was deliberately poisoned.

In their online statement, her family say they need to raise money for the inquest to hold the hospital to account.

They said: “Although the hospital’s lawyers have admitted full responsibility for causing Joan’s death they have refused to pay for the family to be legally represented at the inquest due to start in September.

“The hospital trust will be legally represented by a barrister, effectively paid from your taxes. We already find the inquest and legal process very daunting and upsetting. We need help from a barrister to be a voice for the family to give us the best chance to ensure that all the issues are explored properly at the forthcoming inquest.

“We hope that the inquest will help us to uncover exactly how a mistake with such catastrophic consequences could have happened and to hold the hospital to account.”

Jonathan Austen-Jones, the Blabers' family solicitor, said: “By refusing to fund legal representation for the Inquest I feel the hospital’s lawyers have failed to treat the family fairly and equally, particularly when the hospital trust itself will be legally represented at the Inquest.

“This stance has caused Joan’s family additional anxiety for what is already a very stressful and traumatic process.

“The family have been put in this position through no fault of their own and have been left with no option but to try to crowd fund to ensure their voice is adequately heard at the inquest.”

The Blaber family believe they may need £25,000 to secure legal representation at the full inquest.

Family members were present at her bedside when the clear jug she had been drinking from was replaced with a darker one.

CCTV picked up cleaners moving five-litre drums of Flash around the hospital although it is not thought to be connected to Mrs Blaber’s death. Flash liquid was removed from the hospital following her death but reintroduced in March after complaints wards did not look as clean as they should.

Senior coroner for Brighton Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said at a pre-inquest hearing: “I’m having a job understanding why you can’t use something else which doesn’t run the risk of being ingested because we still have no idea how this happened and we can’t rule out that this was done deliberately.

“We are still in the midst of uncertainty and yet the hospital has reintroduced the cleaning fluid for cosmetic reasons.”

The coroner also asked for assurances from the hospital there could be no repeat of Mrs Blaber’s death.

“It has been reintroduced and that worries me,” the coroner said.

The hospital was ordered to improve after an unannounced visit by inspectors from the Care Quality Commission in October 2017 found it had inadequate safety measures in place. Inspectors found cleaning fluids still incorrectly stored.

The hospital said it had taken "significant steps" to improve the way it manages hazardous substances.

The Sussex Police investigation is on hold with no lines of inquiry left to pursue.

To donate to the crowdfunder, click here