Daughter’s angst as police investigate whether mother’s body was wrongly donated to medical science

PUBLISHED: 17:11 19 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:16 19 July 2019

Gwenda Higgins on her 80th birthday Photo: Nicola Wing

Gwenda Higgins on her 80th birthday Photo: Nicola Wing


Police are investigating an allegation that a much-loved mother’s body was handed over to medical science without her consent.

Gwenda Higgins on her 80th birthday Photo: Nicola WingGwenda Higgins on her 80th birthday Photo: Nicola Wing

Gwenda Higgins died in February this year after living with dementia and suffering a stroke.

Her daughter Nicola Wing said she felt her mother's body had been treated like a "piece of meat" and the consent form she apparently signed was dated two days before her death - when she was in a coma in hospital.

Mrs Wing, 55, found out shortly after her mother's death at Colchester Hospital that her body had been donated, and she started to call around medical schools, finally finding her mother at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Mrs Wing, who lives in Rainham, Essex, said: "It was just a gut instinct that it was not right, and when I asked when the forms had been signed it was two days before she died, but she was in a coma."

After speaking to staff at the UEA, Mrs Wing said they advised the signature on the form was suspicious and to contact the police.

Mrs Wing said the university also said they would cremate her mother on July 10, but when she called to confirm the details she was told the ceremony had already been carried out without her. Professor William Fraser, head of Norwich Medical School, said: "Whilst next of kin and other family members are not able to attend the cremation, they are invited to a thanksgiving service which we regularly hold to acknowledge and thank those who have donated their body to medical research."

Mrs Wing said: "It's like she's been treated like a piece of meat. I just want my mum's ashes."

Prof Fraser said he was unable to comment while a criminal investigation was ongoing, but he said: "Donations are accepted based on fully completed consent forms signed by the individual and independently witnessed, in line with guidance from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), the national regulator. We acted in line with her request on the forms provided to us."

He added: "As a criminal investigation is taking place, we are holding the ashes, pending the completion of that investigation."

An Essex police spokesman said investigations are ongoing. They said: "An 86-year-old man has been interviewed under caution in relation to this incident. No arrests have been made."

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