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No one could have fought harder. That much at least has been a comfort for Hollie Dance in these last desperate couple of days. ‘I know I did everything I could,’ she says. ‘Everything.’
Who could deny it? Week in, week out, as one legal battle has followed another, Hollie has tried everything to try to keep her beloved 12-year-old son Archie alive.
As she approached ‘the end’ as she called it, the stoicism she has maintained for four long months finally deserted her, and the tears fell steadily.
‘I know I’ve done a very good job being Archie’s mum,’ she says. ‘Based on my own childhood I was determined to be as good as a mother as I can possibly be and I feel like I have done that to the very best of my ability. It’s one of the reasons I am here.’
The Daily Mail has spoken to Hollie over the course of these last few agonising days, witnessing first-hand the tension and stress that has accompanied the to-the-wire legal submissions, the raised and dashed hopes. The pressure has been unrelenting for Hollie, 46, and Archie’s father, her 56-year-old former husband Paul Battersbee.
Hollie Dance pictured with her 12-year-old son Archie Battersbee before he was found unconscious on April 7
‘All I have ever asked is to get him to six months – where is the harm in that for them? They have spent a fortune on legal fees fighting me in court – money they could have spent on Archie’s care and others’.’
‘There has been a lot of focus on Archie’s dignity, and I passionately believe that the most dignified death for him would be away from the machines and noise of a hospital ward,’ she told me. ‘At its heart this has been a case about a mother’s love, but also their rights. At what point did Archie’s dad and I lose our parental rights in terms of deciding what we want for our child?’
That question is one that set her once again against the wishes of doctors, who believed that Archie’s condition is too unstable to sustain a transfer and that moving him by ambulance to a different setting would hasten a premature deterioration.
Hollie disagrees, as she has with so much that doctors have told her. The High Court’s decision yesterday morning came as yet another bitter blow when Mrs Justice Theis ruled that it was in Archie’s best interests to remain at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, east London, where he has resided since early April.
Archie mother has been in a legal battle with the Royal London Hospital where Archie is being treated (pictured) after she resisted doctors’ calls to turn off his life support
Few could fail to be moved by the words with which she chose to conclude her judgment, as she paid tribute to what she called the ‘unconditional love’ of Archie’s family. ‘I return to where I started, recognising the enormity of what lays ahead for Archie’s parents and the family. Their unconditional love and dedication to Archie is a golden thread that runs through this case.
‘I hope now Archie can be afforded the opportunity for him to die in peaceful circumstances, with the family who meant so much to him as he clearly does to them.’
Kindly meant though they were, they come as little comfort to Hollie, Paul and their legal team. With the support of the charity Christian Concern, they’ve frequently stayed up until the small hours to meet frantic court deadlines. ‘The pressure has been immense,’ says Hollie.
‘Time after time we have been told at the last minute that we have until 9am the following day to sort our submissions. It has been very difficult. All the way through I haven’t had a chance to process everything that has happened. All I have known is that I can’t let my guard down and break down emotionally because the second I do that I won’t have the strength to fight for my little boy.’
‘I know I’ve done a very good job being Archie’s mum,’ says Hollie, pictured with her son
Archie Battersbee’s mother Hollie Dance (pictured second from right) outside the Royal London Hospital with friends and family
Nonetheless the stress is etched on her face, in the dark shadows under Hollie’s eyes and the pallor that even make-up cannot hide. ‘I do get some sleep,’ she says. ‘Some days are better than others. When one of my favourite nurses is in I find it easier to sleep, but when they’re not, I wake up every 40 minutes checking the machines.
‘Until a month ago his machines were constantly bleeping, which meant they were highlighting issues. They have calmed a lot in the last month which is another good sign showing progress. They are still the backdrop to my world though. Whatever happens I think I will hear those machines for the rest of my life.’
The tragic circumstances of Archie’s final months have been well rehearsed now. An aspiring Olympic gymnast, he was fit and healthy until April this year, when he was found unconscious at the home in Southend-on-Sea he shared with Hollie’s two older children from her first marriage, Tom, 22, and 20-year-old Lauren.
Archie, 12, was an aspiring gymnast and sports enthusiast before he was found inconscious on April 7
A shattering week for Archie’s family… as the legal fight reaches its final hours
Friday – Hollie Dance and Paul Battersbee apply to the UN after exhausting all their options in the British courts. In response, the UN asks the government to keep Archie’s ventilator switched on until they had considered his case.
Sunday – The government’s legal department write an urgent matter on behalf of Health Secretary Steve Barclay asking the courts to urgently consider the committee’s request.
Monday – The Court of Appeal refuse to postpone the withdrawal of Archie’s treatment beyond 12pm the following day.
Morning: The Supreme Court confirm a last-minute appeal has been lodged.
Afternoon: Three justice reject the appeal, meaning Archie’s life support will now be turned off.
Evening: Trust confirms plan to remove Archie’s life support at 11am tomorrow. Archie’s mother announces their plan to make an urgent application to the European Convention on Human Rights tomorrow at 9am.
9am: Archie’s family apply to the ECHR
10am: Barts NHS trust delay removing life support at 11am
6:30pm: The European Court of Human Rights rejected a last-ditch bid to save the youngsters life and said it ‘would not interfere’ with the decisions of UK courts that life-support treatment should be withdrawn from the 12-year-old.
9am: The family make an application to the High Court in to move the 12-year-old from Royal London Hospital to a hospice to die.
3.30pm: The High Court hear the last-ditch appeal from Archie’s family and supporters to have him moved.
11.30am: A senior judge rules against Archie’s parents’ wish to have him moved to a hospice and urges them to let him go ‘peacefully’.
2pm: The family lodge an appeal to the Court of Appeal
6:30pm: The Court of Appeal confirmed permission to appeal had been refused.
Evening: The European Court of Human Rights said it will take no action on the case
10am: life-sustaining treatment is expected to be withdrawn
His mother believes he was taking part in an incredibly dangerous online ‘blackout’ challenge – also known as the ‘choking’ challenge. Starved of oxygen, he was left with a catastrophic brain injury and has been on a ventilator since arriving at the Royal London in the small hours of April 8.
Doctors believed him to be brain dead, and two-and-a-half weeks later sought a judicial review of his treatment. It proved to be the start of weeks of protracted and highly complex legal action as Hollie and her supporters — Paul, her extended family and the legions of supporters she came to call ‘Archie’s Army’ — fought to contest the doctors’ submissions that Archie had no chance of recovery.
For Hollie it has always felt like a David and Goliath affair. ‘Pretty much every court case that has happened I have been given no time, it has been so rushed,’ she says. ‘Maybe that’s why I have never felt surprised by the outcomes.
Upset of course but not surprised, because it felt like the odds were stacked against us from the start. Most of the time it felt less like a hearing than a trial, like I was on trial.’
And not just a trial in the legal sense of the word either: Hollie has also had to deal with cruel social media trolls, who have relentlessly targeted her, accusing her of everything from being a liar to an unfit mother.
‘There has been constant bullying on the social media,’ she says. ‘I’ve never lied about a thing. I’ve been open and honest about everything that has happened but it’s not enough for people. I’ve been messaged to say Archie is “rotting” that he “should be six-feet under”. I’ve even had people say they will come to the hospital and take him off life support themselves.’
She goes on: ‘Others have published my address, which jeopardises my son and daughter’s safety. I try not to engage with it because for every one troll there are a thousand wonderful people out there and these nasty-minded souls are not important but it’s hard.
‘Anyone seen coming to court with me that been targeted too, sent vile messages on social media.’
There have also been offers of help: ‘We had offers from all over the world, but have not been allowed to even consider them as the hospital will not release him out of their care and nor will they treat him. It doesn’t make sense.’
Nonetheless some detractors acknowledge her deep love for her son but believe passionately that Hollie should place her trust in the experts. For this she has a robust answer. ‘Physicians get it wrong,’ she says. ‘Lewis Roberts is living proof of that.’ Struck by a van in the Staffordshire town of Leek in March last year, at one point the family of 19-year-old Lewis was told that he had suffered a brain-stem death — but hours before surgery to donate his organs, he began to breathe on his own. ‘Here is someone who was minutes away from organ donation, death certificate signed, failed the brain stem test and then 15 months later rehabilitated he’s playing basketball.’
More than anything, she says, it comes down to a mother’s instinct. ‘As his mother, I have had to explore every option,’ she says. ‘If my gut was telling me there was no chance for my son it might have been different, but I’ve educated myself, and strongest of all is a mother’s instinct that my son is in there.’
Archie’s parents Paul Battersbee and Hollie Dance after the Court of Appeal refused to postpone the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from their 12-year-old son on Monday
She knows this, she insists, from the hours sitting at her son’s bedside with the rest of his family, talking to him, reading to him and playing him music.
‘I know he knows I am there,’ she repeated. ‘His facial expression changes, just as it does in other situations. When he has physio it’s quite invasive, it has to be to get the mucus from his lungs and he looks very stressed when he has that. Whereas when he has the reflexology in he looks very chilled and relaxed, his blood pressure drops. It goes up at bath time, the nurses know he doesn’t like the right or left side — so is this communication by dead people?
‘He’s gaining weight — it totally contradicts what doctors say which is that his vagus nerve is part of the brain that has been destroyed so therefore he is going to deteriorate to death. He actually looks well, like he’s asleep.’
It is a sleep from which he has not woken, and which Hollie has now accepted he never will.
Parents lose final legal bid in fight for Archie
By Vanessa Allen for the Daily Mail
Archie Battersbee’s ‘broken’ parents lost their final court bid last night to transfer him to a hospice before his life support is switched off tomorrow.
The 12-year-old’s family wanted to take him from the hospital where he has been in a coma for months, following a court battle over whether medics can stop treating him.
But a High Court judge ruled against moving him to a hospice as there were risks he could die during the move without his family around him.
Lawyers for Archie’s parents, Hollie Dance and Paul Battersbee, applied to the Court of Appeal and the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the ruling – but both applications were rejected last night.
Doctors have been given permission to turn off Archie’s life support machine, but his parents are trying to continue the fight to keep him alive. Pictured is Archie in hospital
The rulings mean his life-sustaining treatment can be withdrawn from 10am tomorrow, when the court order preventing the hospital from withdrawing care expires.
Speaking before the European Court of Human Rights ruling last night, Miss Dance, 46, said: ‘All our wishes as a family have been denied by the authorities.’
She added: ‘We are broken, but we are keeping going, because we love Archie and refuse to give up on him.’
Archie, who was previously a fit and healthy schoolboy with aspirations to become an Olympic gymnast, suffered severe brain damage following an accident at his home in Southend, Essex, in April. His mother believes he was taking part in a social media ‘blackout challenge’.
Doctors say his brain damage is so severe that he has no realistic prospect of recovery. In June, they applied to the High Court to withdraw his life support. Medics from the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London, said Archie’s brain had received no blood supply since April, and that his condition was likely to deteriorate until his organs failed and he went into cardiac arrest.
Ms Dance kisses her son Archie as he lies in bed in hospital, following an accident at his Essex home in April
But his family have asked the hospital to give him more time, and fought the case at every legal stage, including applications to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
In the most recent High Court hearing, held late on Thursday night, lawyers for the family asked for him to be moved to a hospice, and for the court to consider his possible treatment abroad.
Archie’s parents have received offers of stem cell treatment from doctors in Japan and Italy.
But doctors from the Barts Health NHS Trust said the treatments were ‘experimental’ and that Archie’s brain damage was too severe to be treated.
They warned that air travel – or even a move to a hospice – would be risky because Archie could die in transit.
Mrs Justice Theis ruled yesterday that any move to a hospice or further afield would not be in the child’s best interests.
Archie with his mother Hollie Dance (left), brother Tom Summers and sister Lauren Summers
Archie Battersbee’s brother Tom Summers kissing Archie on the head in hospital
She insisted he should remain at the hospital, and said she was satisfied that doctors there would ‘enable him peacefully and privately to die in the embrace of the family he loved’.
The High Court judge said she recognised ‘the enormity of what lay ahead for Archie’s parents and the family’.
She said: ‘Their unconditional love and dedication to Archie is a gold thread that runs through this case. I hope now Archie can be afforded the opportunity for him to die in peaceful circumstances, with the family who meant so much to him as he clearly does to them.’
The NHS trust has said it wants to work with the family to prepare for the withdrawal of treatment, but will make no changes to his care ‘until the outstanding legal issues are resolved’.
The family’s request for an appeal was considered by three senior judges – the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Moylan.