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Covid ‘contributing factor’ in Dame Jocelyn Barrow’s death

'DJB' was first female black governor at the BBC

25 September, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Dame Jocelyn Barrow and broadcaster Moira Stuart [Photo: Brian Quavar]

A PIONEERING race relations campaigner died from a blood clot after fracturing her leg, although a pathologist found the coronavirus was a “contributing factor”.

Dame Jocelyn Barrow, 90, the first black woman to become a governor of the BBC, had been injured in a fall, an inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard on Friday. Her leg was set in a plaster cast in January and she spent weeks in rehabilitation at St Pancras Hospital.

But in April, care workers found her feeling faint and breathing heavily at home, the court was told.

An ambulance was called but she later died from a pulmonary embolism. An emergency team at UCLH had been advised that she may be struggling to breathe due to Covid-19 and public health laboratories tested her positive for the virus after her death.

Dame Jocelyn, who was born in Trinidad, emigrated to London in 1959 and lived for much of her life in Camden, most recently in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury.

She rose to prominence as an educationalist and the co-founder and general secretary of Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (Card). She paved the way for landmark race relations legislation and was among campaigners behind the introduction of multicultural education in British schools.

Her activism was sparked by an inspirational meeting with US civil rights campaigner Dr Martin Luther King in 1964.

They had met while he was passing through the UK on his way to Norway to receive the Nobel peace prize. In 1981 she was appointed a governor of the BBC, in a role that saw changes in programming and training and Moira Stuart become the first of the BBC’s primetime black news presenters.

Locally, she also led the Community Housing Association in its purchase of 89 houses on the former Calthorpe Estate, off Gray’s Inn Road, King’s Cross and was also vice-chair of the borough’s Committee for Community Relations in the 1970s. She was given a damehood in 1992, and sometimes then became known as simply “DJB” – Dame Jocelyn Barrow.

Black Cultural Archives chairwoman Dawn Hill, who knew Dame Jocelyn, said in a tribute earlier this year that she was a “great pioneering spirit and true champion of racial equality”.

She added: “In the 1960s there were very few people you could just ring up and ask for help, and Jocelyn was one of them. She always gave very good advice and used her position to help so many people.”

Assistant coroner Dr Richard Brittain told the inquest that a postmortem had found a “large left- sided pulmonary embolism caused by a deep vein thrombosis” and that pathologist Dr Alan Bates had marked down that “Covid-19 was a contributing factor”.

In his conclusion to the inquest, however, Dr Brittain did not mention the virus, telling the court that she “died as a consequence of complications arising from an accidental fall, namely a pulmonary embolism following a leg fracture despite being on blood thinning medication”.

The inquest’s findings came amid a national debate over how the coronavirus is being tracked in the UK with differences of opinion over how the deaths of people who died with the virus or from the virus should be charted.

Dr Brittain thanked those who attended the hearing via video conferencing call and offered his condolences to Dame Jocelyn’s friends and family.

Her sister, Vera Barrow, said she agreed with his conclusions.

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