It was the devastating end to the most heartbreaking of public legal battles.
At 12.15pm on Saturday, Archie Battersbee died in hospital, surrounded by his family, after doctors finally removed his life support.
Appearing outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, where the 12-year-old has been in intensive care since April, his visibly distressed mother Hollie Dance paid a moving tribute to her ‘beautiful baby boy’ who “Fought well until the end”.
Announcing the death of her son, she said: “I am the proudest mum in the world. He was such a beautiful little boy and he fought until the very end, and I’m so proud to be his mom.
The story of Archie, an aspiring Olympic gymnast, and the family who fought so hard for their lives, has captured the hearts of the nation.
The fit and active baby boy was found unconscious in his bedroom in Southend, Essex, four months ago following what Mrs Dance, 46, and Archie’s father, her former husband Paul Battersbee, 56 years, thought a social media game had gone tragically wrong.
Deprived of oxygen, he ended up with a catastrophic brain injury.
Since that day, they have stayed by his side, not wanting to give up hope that he can recover. Even when doctors told them Archie was extremely likely to be brain dead and recommended removing his care, they continued to fight to give him a chance of survival.
Their stoicism was simply remarkable.
Ms Dance described how she believed her son had held her hand, his facial expressions had changed and she knew, instinctively, ‘my son is in there’.
She talked to her little boy, read to him and played him her favorite music. She slept next to him, waking up to check her machines every 40 minutes.
They fought against Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, and took their fight to the High Court, Court of Appeal and European Court of Human Rights in a bid to give it more time under respiratory assistance.
They publicly criticized the trust, saying there was ‘zero support’ and that a letter given to them outlined plans that amounted to a ‘choreographed execution’ of Archie.
Just last week, they fought for him to be transferred to a hospice to live his last moments in a more private setting. But that offer fell through on Friday night. No other option remained.
Mrs Justice Theis said in her decision that the “family’s unconditional love and devotion to Archie is a golden thread that runs through this case. I hope now that Archie will have the opportunity to die in peaceful circumstances, with the family that meant so much to him that he clearly does for them.
In an interview shortly afterwards, Ms Dance said: ‘It was really difficult. Despite the tough face and appearance in front of the cameras so far, I’ve been pretty broken.
When asked if there was anything more she could do, she added, “No. I did everything I promised my little boy I would do. I did it.”
On Saturday morning, well-wishers began leaving floral tributes and lighting candles at the entrance to the hospital. Candles twinkled in the shape of the letter “A” and also formed a love heart around a card with Archie’s name on it.
Family friends and family campaign supporters also rallied in solidarity.
A family spokesperson said the atmosphere inside the venue as Archie’s final moments approached had been “very charged”.
At 10 a.m., the court order preventing the hospital from removing Archie’s life support expired.
Doctors stopped the medical treatment he was receiving and, two hours later, his ventilation was taken off.
He died shortly afterwards.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported the family’s case, said: ‘We will continue to support the family as we have done throughout.
“It was a privilege to be with them.
“The events of the past few weeks raise many important questions, including questions about the definition of death, how these decisions are made and the place of family. We need an urgent review and reform of the system.
Baroness Finlay, a professor of palliative medicine and former president of the Royal Society of Medicine, has called for an independent inquiry into how these cases of brain damage are being treated.
“Adversarial conflict does not help anyone,” she said.
The interbank peer backed the introduction of ‘Charlie’s Law’, a campaign by parents of baby Charlie Gard to introduce new rules to give parents more say in how their children are treated .
Charlie died in 2017 after a long legal battle between his doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital and his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard.
Their proposal could allow parents to seek mediation and independent experts if they disagree with what doctors decide.
Baroness Finlay said: ‘I fear these cases are going to court too quickly and too soon, and we need another way of managing communication between doctors and parents.’
When lawyers are involved, she added, communication becomes more difficult. There is no specific timeline for these proposed changes.
But Archie’s case will bring renewed urgency to the need for change. Perhaps despite losing the little boy they loved so desperately, the family’s battle will not have been entirely in vain.