A coroner yesterday cast doubt on the standard of care given to a solicitor who died in a Hong Kong hospital after suffering an epileptic fit.

Recording an open verdict at St Pancras coroner’s court in central London at the inquest into the death of Harinder Veriah, 33, Stephen Chan said the evidence had questioned the level of care she received in the final 20 minutes before she died, as well as the management of her stay in hospital.

Ms Veriah, who was married to the former Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques, died on January 2 2000 after being admitted to hospital in the early hours of the previous day.

Mr Jacques maintains his wife was the victim of wilful negligence by hospital staff.

Hours before she died she told her husband she was at the “bottom of the pile” in terms of treatment because of her race.

Ms Veriah, a Sikh from a Malaysian family, was admitted to Tang Shiu Kin hospital after collapsing and losing consciousness after an epileptic fit. She was transferred to the Ruttonjee hospital, where she had another fit. A short time after diazepam was intravenously administered, she suffered a heart attack.

Doctors, who arrived at her bedside only after she fell unconscious, were unable to save her.

Dr Chan said that because of the constraints on the evidence before him, the only verdict he could return was an open one. Because Mr Jacques was launching civil proceedings in Hong Kong, he was also forbidden from commenting on the liability of the hospital.

But he added: “I am aware of the critical issue of whether timely ventilatory support had been given to the deceased. On the face of the evidence, there is, at the very least, a question to be addressed as to the level of care in those final 20 minutes given to this most unfortunate woman.”

Earlier, Dr Chan read excerpts from statements made by two London specialists, who said hospital staff had been negligent by failing to put her on a respirator when she was having breathing difficulties.

– Jamie Wilson