What should have been an idyllic holiday abroad turned into a nightmare for John Siddall after his beloved wife Mavis was taken ill and died. He tells AASMA DAY how he has spent the last decade fighting to get changes made to spare other tourists going through a similar anguish.
THE empty aeroplane seat on the journey home spoke volumes.
Sitting on the plane staring at the vacant seat where his wife Mavis should have sat, John Siddall felt like his tears would never stop as the grief at losing the love of his life threatened to overwhelm him.
To make things worse, fellow travel companions who had chatted to John and Mavis on the outbound journey to Menorca kept looking around in surprise and asking him where his wife was.
John, now 75, recalls: “The plane on the way home from Menorca was full except for one empty seat next to me where my wife should have sat.
“There were people on the plane who we had met on the plane going out who recognised me and asked me where my wife was.
“One of the stewardesses asked a female passenger to sit with me and keep me company on the way back to Manchester Airport.
“The lady who sat next to me was in her 50s and was very kind. But I was too upset to talk to her very much. She was so upset for me, she was crying her eyes out.
“Everyone sitting at the rear of the plane near me was very distressed and many of them were in tears too.
“I was just heartbroken and my tears were down to coming home from holiday without my wife and knowing that she would be following a week-and-a-half later in a leaden coffin.
“It was like a bad dream and did not feel real.”
It was meant to be a relaxing holiday to Menorca in September 2014 for retired policeman John and wife Mavis but it ended in tragedy.
The couple who had been married for 30 years loved going on holiday abroad and were looking forward to a break in Menorca.
John, who has three children and three grandchildren from his first marriage and had two step-daughters with Mavis, says: “Mavis and I had been going on holiday abroad together for more than 20 years.
“It was not often that we went back to the same place, but we had been to Menorca the year before and Mavis had loved it so much, she wanted to go back.”
John, who lives in Fulwood, Preston, says that Mavis, 69, did have a heart condition when she worked at the Royal Preston Hospital as a catering supervisor and she retired as a result of this.
However, he explains that she was on medication to control the condition and was perfectly fine and it did not affect her life in any way.
But on the first day of their Menorca holiday, Mavis was suddenly struck by heart problems.
John remembers: “We arrived in Menorca around midday and had a meal at teatime and then went for a stroll.
“We were coming back to the hotel around 10.30pm when Mavis suddenly started suffering from palpitations of the heart.
“I took her up to our room and she was very breathless. I called the hotel doctor who after examining her, said she needed to go to hospital.
“Within 10 minutes, an ambulance had arrived to take us. We were taken to the capital Mahon and admitted to a clinic.
“It all went downhill from there.”
John recalls that the clinic was not very large and Mavis was put on a drip and a heart machine. As John does not speak Spanish, he found it difficult to follow what was going on and was unsure of his wife’s diagnosis.
During the night, Mavis suffered a heart attack and the following day, a doctor told John Mavis had had another heart attack.
John says: “Mavis was in this clinical unit for two-and-a-half days.
“However, they did not even have the basic equipment needed to deal with emergencies. They did not even have a defibrillator to re-start the heart.
“This was typical of clinical units in this part of the world.
“I was getting very agitated by this point.
“Mavis was put on an oxygen mask and was deteriorating.
“I never left her bedside apart from popping out quickly for a drink or a sandwich.
“Mavis’s condition got worse and her organs were beginning to shut down.”
The rest of the family flew out to Menorca and became anxious as they could see Mavis was going downhill. They were then told that Mavis was going to be taken to the main hospital but doctors were concerned she might not survive the 10-minute journey there.
John says: “They sedated Mavis and took her to the main hospital where they had all the emergency equipment and they carried out investigations to see what damage had been done.
“They discovered that she had several infections in her body and that as a result, her main organs were shutting down.
“One of the doctors took me to one side and told me that because of the delay in getting to hospital, Mavis was fighting on all fronts.
“I knew then that Mavis did not have a chance.
“She never spoke again and died on September 15 2004 at 12.45pm.
“The last words I heard her speak were to her daughter telling her that I had been really good and not left her bedside.”
John had been a police constable at Lancashire Constabulary, working as a juvenile liaison officer. After retiring from the police after 30 years of service, he worked as a probation service officer for 10 years and then at Preston’s Harris Museum on security for 11 years.
With his policing background, while in Menorca, John took notes on everything that happened in case the details were important later down the line.
John recalls: “After Mavis died, I was very upset and disturbed and was concerned about the negligence that had taken place.
“Mavis’ funeral took place two weeks after my return to Preston. After this, I knew I had to get a grip of myself.
“Once I got over the initial grief, I knew I wanted to take legal action and sue the clinic and the hospital for negligence.”
John went to see a solicitor in Preston who told him that he wouldn’t find a lawyer in Lancashire who could deal with the situation because it was so serious and recommended a London law firm.
John also contacted his local councillor who at the time was Geoff Driver and as well as helping John himself, he put him in touch with MP Nigel Evans who dealt with the matter until 2009 when MP Ben Wallace took over.
While the case was being handled by lawyers in London and Spain, John did all he could with MPs to raise awareness of the issue.
In August 2006, a judge in Spain made a decision that in his opinion, no negligence had taken place and that he felt Mavis had been transferred to the main hospital in good time.
John remembers: “I was devastated. It was absolute rubbish. I was that distressed and horrified, I do not know how I coped.
“I could not believe a judge could not see that Mavis had spent two-and-a-half days in a clinic with no basic equipment to cope with an emergency situation and that this meant a delay before she got the treatment she needed.
“She should have been transferred to the main hospital as soon as they realised she had had a heart attack. But instead, they kept her in for another day-and-a-half.
“In that time, septicaemia was setting in and her organs were shutting down.
“Her kidney, liver and spleen had shut down by 50 per cent by the time she was transferred to the main hospital.”
John’s lawyers initially said they would appeal against the judge’s decision. But the judge told them there was no chance of appeal.
John says: “The solicitors told me that one of the problems in Spain was that doctors do not tend to testify against each other.
“My lawyers in Spain told me they would try for civil proceedings. But after giving it more thought, they rejected it as they felt the chance of success when a judge had thrown out the case were very low.
“My final letter from my lawyers was to tell me that they were declining the case as I stood to lose a lot of money and maybe even my home.
“I felt totally distraught. I thought ‘I have to get some justice from this’.”
Since then, John has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue of medical treatment abroad, particularly in Spain and the Balaerics.
Together with Nigel Evans, John liaised with many different people and Nigel Evans debated John’s story in Parliament and it is in the Hansard.
Ben Wallace then took over John’s crusade and attended many meetings on his behalf with the Foreign Office, holiday insurers and travel companies.
John gave interviews about his ordeal and there were meetings with the Foreign Office and ABTA also promised to look into it.
On April 8 2011, as a result of the issue being raised with the Foreign Office, the legislation and wording has been changed on the guidance on the Internet for people travelling to Spain.
John explains: “The guidance now states that if you are a tourist and require medical treatment in Spain, you are more likely to receive appropriate care in a public health care setting.
“It is implying to people that they should go to the main hospital in an emergency situation.
“For emergency conditions such as for Mavis, you should be immediately transferred to a main hospital where they have the resources to cope with it.
“Basically, the longer they have you in a clinic, the more money they can get from your insurance.
“So I took up the matter through the MPs with ABTA and the insurers.”
In November 2011, ABTA and the Foreign Office had a complete review of their customer fair policy for tourists and during 2012 and 2013, John and MP Ben Wallace had several meetings with insurance companies raising the issue of travel abroad and people falling ill.
And John is still fighting on even though he already has three big files of paperwork showing what he has achieved so far.
John says: “I have not finished yet even though I have written to almost everyone in Parliament.
“I have had letters from the Prime Minister’s office thanking me for all the work I have done to raise awareness of the healthcare in Spain and the potential impact on British tourists.
“I have put 10 years of effort into this and the other week, I went to Mavis’ grave and told her all I had done.
“It is some consolation to know that her death has not been in vain.
“Hopefully, I have helped other people in the future by making them aware of the potential dangers when you fall ill abroad and have encouraged them to check things more carefully.
“It is more in emergency cases that it is an issue.
“It has been a long, hard bitter campaign and I have cried many tears along the way.
“I still miss Mavis every day. She was the love of my life.”