A new police investigation has been launched into deaths of patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1987 and 2001.
To date, no prosecutions have been made in connection with the scandal, despite three previous criminal probes.
But it is now hoped that new evidence uncovered by the Gosport Independent Panel will help officers bring forward charges.
In a report published last June, the panel determined that as many as 650 people had their lives shortened due to a reckless prescribing regime of powerful opioid painkillers.
Since September 2018, a dedicated team of police staff led by assistant chief constable Nick Downing have been assessing the panel’s findings.
As of 1 May 2019, a full new independent police inquiry will be launched with a devoted team of officers from across the UK.
The investigation will be fronted by Mr Downing, who is head of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, on behalf of the Eastern Policing Region.
His appointment on the case was approved by the chief constables of each of the forces that comprise the Eastern Policing Region – Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Kent and Suffolk.
Mr Downing announced the investigation to relatives of those who died in the Gosport scandal during a meeting today.
He described the case as “highly complex and emotive” and acknowledged that some families had been fighting for justice for more than 30 years.
“This investigation is not about numbers, it is about people – specifically those who died at the hospital and the loved ones they have left behind,” he said.
“There have been three previous police investigations into deaths at the hospital,” Mr Downing added. “It was therefore important for us to carry out an initial assessment of the materials obtained by the Gosport Independent Panel to establish if it contained sufficient new information that has not already been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service.
“Now that we have launched a full investigation we will be arranging to meet with the families on a one-to-one basis and invite them to give statements on their own experiences with the hospital, as it is their accounts about the loss of their loved ones that will help put the medical assessments we have into context,” he added.
The previous police investigations were carried out by Hampshire Constabulary.
Following the publication of the Gosport Independent Panel report, the chief constable of Hampshire Constabulary, Olivia Pinkney, announced that the time was right to “take a step back” and allow another force to take the lead.
It comes as the Nursing and Midwifery Council continue with its own investigation into the scandal.