A mum who tried to sue the NHS for £7.3m claiming her daughter was left in wheelchair due to medical blunders is on trial after posts showed her singing and dancing on stage.
Natasha Colley launched a lawsuit in 2016 stating that her daughter Megan Colley, who was born with displaced hips, became severely disabled after doctors failed to correct the issue when she was younger.
Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust admitted breach of duty in the way operations were performed on Megan, who is now 21, valuing the claim at around £65,000.
But Ms Colley, acting as her daughter’s litigation friend, sued a massive £7.3m claiming the mistakes meant Megan was left “significantly reliant upon a wheelchair out of doors with consequential dependence, such as people having to push her”.
Now an investigation later revealed that Megan had taken up a performing arts degree course and even played the lead in a Jack and the Beanstalk stage show, it is understood.
A surveillance video and social media posts showed her on her feet, singing, dancing and performing in stage shows without apparent difficulty, the NHS Trust said.
Megan was hailed as a “strong dancer” and a “star pupil” by tutors on her course who, lawyers for the NHS said, had expressed “astonishment” to learn that she was said to be badly disabled.
The compensation claim never reached trial as Megan withdrew her support for it days before it was due to hit court.
But now her mum is facing an application by the NHS Trust to have her committed for contemplation of court in allegedly lying about her daughter’s disabilities.
Megan is not herself being accused of contempt and her mum stands by what she said about her daughter’s condition, claiming the performances took place on “good days” with the aid of strong painkillers and left her in secret agony afterwards.
Sitting at London’s High Court, Mr Justice Bourne heard that Megan was born in July 2000, suffering from hip dysplasia.
Her mum, who is from Hull and works in a chip shop, is accused of making four false statements about the impact on her daughter of mistakes made in operations to correct the hip issues when she was a child.
The NHS admitted blame but claimed that £65,500 would compensate Megan for two unnecessary operations she would have to undergo, plus the fact that she may face having to have hip replacements earlier in life than her condition would otherwise have needed.
However Ms Colley insisted that Megan had needed a wheelchair for much of the time when she was at school and later when she was at college completing a performing arts degree.
She claimed that her daughter was so seriously disabled she deserved £7.3m compensation, later revised to £5.5m after surveillance evidence was disclosed.
Caroline Harrison QC, for the NHS Trust, told the judge they had gathered statements from Hull College tutors who taught her during her performing arts degree and said they were “shocked” or “astounded” by the allegations of mobility difficulties.
“The tutors do not recognize the portrait of her disability that is painted by her mum,” she said.
“Their experience of her was as a star student, a strong dancer and singer who did not avoid energetic dancing, who needed no help with costume or shoe changes and who showed no signs of pain, distress or difficulty after performances,” she said.
The court was shown surveillance video of Megan performing in stage productions of shows including Oliver, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Beauty and the Beast.
Megan had also posted online videos on her social media showing her standing and singing, and making statements that she had played lead roles in the shows and wanted to “build a career in performing and modeling”.
“I can sing, dance and act and love to also entertain,” says one post.
Ms Harrison told the judge that in August 2018 Megan signed a learning agreement with the college, stating she was “not a wheelchair user”.
When she did bring a wheelchair to college it was for a short time, which the barrister claimed “supports the suggestion that it was a prop rather than being genuinely needed.”
Ms Harrison admitted that modifications had to be made to accommodate Megan’s hip issues when dancing got more “technically challenging” later in her course but went on to claim her hips “seemed to cause her only occasional transient problems”.
Ms Colley however maintains that her daughter used a wheelchair at Hull College and had a teaching assistant to push her around at times, the court heard.
“She asserts that the role of Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk was not a main part,” the barrister said.
“Further, Natasha Colley asserts that her daughter’s stage work caused her substantial pain and discomfort that no one else ever witnessed, but that she had to do it because it was part of her course.”
Ms Colley told the court that her daughter had used painkillers to allow her to walk on the days when she was filmed and that she had good days and bad days.
But the barrister insisted she was guilty of “falsity related to exaggeration of her daughter’s mobility and disability” claiming that Megan “barely used a wheelchair at all but had … normal mobility in terms of walking using stairs and accessing public transport”.
The court was shown surveillance video from 2018 of Megan walking unaided, eating chips, getting on a bus by herself, going shopping alone and riding an escalator.
Ms Harrison also told the judge there was a “complete absence of any reference to a wheelchair in any of (Megan’s) school records”.
She said: “Hull relies upon statements from two teachers who taught her between 2014 and 2016, both of whom are adamant that she never attended their classes in a wheelchair and that they never saw her on campus in a wheelchair.
“In summary, on four occasions between 2013 and 2018, Natasha Colley stated that her daughter was significantly reliant upon a wheelchair out of doors with consequential dependence such as people having to push her.”
She added: “This evidence demonstrates grossly normal functions including walking up stairs and an escalator, climbing aboard a bus, walking without any aids or apparent difficulty longer and further than she claimed was possible.”
The barrister told the judge that Megan was born with two severely displaced hips and there had been a genuine compensation claim originally.
“But knowingly making false statements in documents supported by statements of truth which are deployed to support a case is equally serious whether it is a ‘cash-for-crash’ manufactured claim, or where there was a genuine underlying case,” she added.
Selena Jones, defending, asked Megan’s tutors it was possible that she had been “masking” the pain and difficulties she was experiencing while performing.
“That’s possible, yes,” one told her.
She also raised questions over similar phrases being used in witness statements put in by members of staff from the college and Megan’s former school.
One staff member told Ms Jones that she had been asked questions about Megan and answered orally, but her statement had been written by a solicitor for the NHS Trust and she had later read and approved it.
The trial continues.