Manhunt for Covid denier who ‘tried to take elderly man from hospital’

27 January 2021, 19:08 | Updated: 31 January 2021, 15:22

By Joe Cook

Police are calling for public assistance in tracking down a man who was allegedly part of a group Covid deniers who tried to drag an elderly patient out of critical care at East Surrey Hospital.

Tobe Hayden Leigh, 45, believed to be from Kent, is wanted in connection with a public nuisance offence after videos posted on social media showed a group entering the hospital to visit a family member on Thursday.

After entering the critical care Covid ward, police say they were abusive to hospital staff who asked them to wear masks and refused to leave when asked to do so.

Videos posted online by a YouTube account in Mr Hayden Leigh’s name appear to show an ICU doctor decrying the group for apparently removing the oxygen from the elderly patient.

The doctor pleads: “My main concern is his safety and at the moment you are making him unsafe. You have taken his oxygen off, he is going to die if we don’t put it back on!”

The patient appears to suggest he wants to leave the hospital, arguing with doctors that he won’t die if his oxygen is taken off.

“If you go home, you will die,” the doctor says, later telling the group the patient will “last about half an hour” if he leaves hospital.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust say they allow any patient who has capacity to make decisions about their care to do so, including leaving hospital.

The man livestreaming the incident then argues with the exasperated doctors, telling them the gravely ill patient should be put on the unproven treatment of “Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc” if he is unhappy.

Standing in the Covid ward he challenges doctors to “define coronavirus”, claiming it “hasn’t been proven to exist” and is “no longer a highly contagious infectious disease”.

With over 37,000 patients currently in hospital with Covid across the UK, Michael Wilson CBE, chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, strongly condemned these comments.

“Any suggestion that Covid-19 doesn’t exist or isn’t serious is not only extremely disrespectful to the NHS staff caring for patients affected by the virus, but it also puts the lives of others at risk,” Mr Wilson said.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, say they are concerned “about the recent activities of Covid deniers ranging filming empty areas at night-time and protesting outside hospitals”.

CEO Chris Hopson, told The Guardian: “Entering a Covid ward, putting patient and staff lives at risk and then posting a video online afterwards plumbs new lows.

“It’s not only dangerous, it’s also deeply disrespectful of the extraordinary efforts by frontline NHS staff who, day in, day out are working flat out to save the lives of seriously ill patients.

“NHS trusts take the security and safety of their staff, patients and visitors incredibly seriously and trust leaders have told us they have been reviewing security arrangements to ensure that appropriate protections are in place.”

Police say officers attended the incident on Thursday and fined two individuals for breaching Covid restrictions, describing it as an “extreme and blatant disregard” for the rules.

They are now appealing for the public to get in touch if they have any information about the whereabouts of Mr Hayden Leigh, so they “can deal with him appropriately”.

East Surrey Detective Chief Inspector Kimball Edey said: “We would like to speak to Hayden Leigh in connection with this incident, and the escalating abusive and threatening comments being made towards hospital staff on social media.

“These comments are extremely concerning, and are obviously causing considerable distress for those who are being targeted.

“The staff at the hospital, as are all NHS workers, are trying to care for desperately ill people in extremely challenging circumstances, and to be targeted and abused on social media in this way is simply unacceptable.”

DCI Edey continued: “We also need to track Hayden Leigh down as a matter of urgency due to the public health risk he poses.

“He came into close proximity with a patient who remains seriously ill with covid and may well have contracted the virus himself.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact the police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 with the reference PR/45210007085.