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Call for Statutory Public inquiry into the deaths, abuse and exploitation of patients under the care of Essex mental health services leads to debate in Parliament on Monday 30th November

A successful petition led by Melanie Leahy and signed by over 105,000 people, has secured a parliamentary debate into what appear to be calamitous failings within NHS Mental Health Services in Essex.

Melanie, who has been working tirelessly since the death of her 20-year-old son Matthew in 2012, is supported by her legal team Nina Ali and Priya Singh of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors.

INQUEST, a charity focused on providing expert assistance with investigation into state-related deaths, is also supporting the campaign.

Matthew Leahy

Matthew, who had been experiencing some mental health problems, was admitted to the Linden Centre, Chelmsford on 7 November 2012, for ‘care and treatment’, and to ensure he was safe. During his stay, Matthew contacted Essex Police begging for help. Eight years on, Melanie Leahy has acquired a recording of Matthew’s call to the emergency services: Matthew is heard telling the call operator that he has been raped, that he is bleeding, that he needs medical attention, and that doctors are ignoring him. On 15 November 2012, just 7 days later, Matthew was found hanging in his room. Matthew was taken to Broomfield hospital where he was pronounced dead.

An inquest revealed that there had been multiple failings in the care given to him at the Linden Centre by the North Essex Partnership University Trust (NEP), but did not get to the bottom of what had happened and how it was possible for a young man in the care of ‘professionals’ in an institution whose main, if not only, remit is to look after and treat people with mental health problems, to have died in this way.

Melanie continues with her fight for the truth. She says: “Matthew’s death wasn’t investigated properly – his care plan was falsified after his death, his claim of rape wasn’t taken seriously, he was highly medicated, he was bruised, he had unexplained needle wounds his safety was not taken into consideration. I still don’t have the truth about the circumstances in which he died, which leaves me with a huge sense of pain and injustice.

“I and the other impacted families will be carefully following the debate on Monday in the hope that this will bring much-needed attention to gross failings in Essex Mental Health Services – for Matthew, for all the other families who have lost loved ones and, as importantly, for vulnerable people who are currently in these same institutions and who are being neglected, abused and dying.

“Despite all the investigations to date, nothing has changed. The words ‘Lessons must be learned’ have been endlessly repeated but still, the failings continue, our vulnerable continue to suffer and die, and I and others still do not have the truth. I will not accept any more tick box or lip service investigation. I want a full statutory public inquiry so that the people involved can be called to account and give their evidence on oath!”

Nina Ali, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, says: “The heart-breaking stories of Melanie and the other 55 families impacted by the extremely serious failings of mental health care in Essex must be properly investigated. This parliamentary debate will, we hope, alert Parliament to both the urgency of the situation and the need to act to protect the vulnerable. Before any meaningful action can be taken we must get to the bottom of what is going wrong, and why. The only way to do this is by investigation and proper scrutiny and that means an Inquiry. Those responsible must be held accountable and change must occur. When people are admitted to a place of safety, they must, at the very least, be safe”

Priya Singh, Associate at Hodge Jones & Allen added: “Matthew was owed a duty of care that was lacking and, ultimately, resulted in the premature loss of his life. We want to get to the truth – for his family and all the other families that are owed answers for their loss. A Statutory Public Inquiry will not only bring answers for our bereaved families, but also recommendations for change – a change that is urgently needed to help save future lives. While our campaign continues to grow, we would urge anyone else who has concerns about mental health provision concerning this case to get in touch – gathering more stories will help better serve the patients of tomorrow.”

Melanie added: “Everyone wants to know the real truth of how and why their loved ones died, and who is accountable for repeated failings – which includes poor crisis services, early discharges, sub-standard safety, poor risk assessments, poor triaging, and missing documents, among other things.

“Our call for a Public Inquiry includes child, adolescent, adult, elderly, veterans and prison mental health services in Essex.

“In the past, I’ve had many families contact me to be included in the campaign as they were failed by other trusts, such as the South Essex University Partnership Trust, the new Essex Partnership University Trust and the general community mental health services in Essex. Up until now, my response has had to sadly be, “no”. But now I’m so happy to announce that answer is ‘YES!’

“So, please, if you have had a loved one failed under psychiatric services in Essex, this is your chance to join our call for a Public Inquiry. Multiple patients have been failed over the years – let’s find out why and how these repeated failings have been allowed to continue for well over two decades, who is responsible, and what must be changed.

“This is a call to action!”

In response to the petition and ahead of the debate the Government issued a short statement: “The Government sincerely regrets Matthew’s death. NHS Improvement will review the care that he and others received and will provide advice in due course on whether a public inquiry should be held.”

Anyone wanting to watch the debate can do so by heading to Parliament TV.

Testimonials from other families fighting for justice with Melanie

Sofia Dimoglou of Lewes, East Sussex, lost her mum, Valerie Dimoglou, who was placed in the care of the NEP after an attempted suicide and died in 2015:

A Public Inquiry would mean that we at least live in a society where someone with authority cares about the lives of those affected by mental health issues – young, old, everyone. Maybe it could herald a change in Essex and across the country. My family might then one day not be left with the message that my 76-year-old mum was not deemed ill enough to be in hospital, although she made it clear that she would kill herself if sent home. The response from the North Essex Partnership Trust was that my hard-working and wonderful mum was not even ill – as if we still live in a world where suicide is deemed an ordinary, acceptable choice.

A Public Inquiry might reveal the cruel pressures on mentally ill patients like Val who are expected to fend for themselves or reach out to families who cannot cope with their complex mental health needs, often exacerbated by poor diagnoses, over-drugging and, quite frankly, spiteful and bullying so-called ‘care’, designed to get them out of hospitals, whatever the cost to their precious lives.

Lisa Morris of Southminster, Essex, lost her son, Ben Morris, who was placed in the care of the NEP, in 2008:

A Public Inquiry is my last hope of ever getting the truth surrounding Ben’s death. The trust has made so many public promises and guarantees that they’ve improved their services and made wards safe, but every death I hear of tells me different. I’m astonished it’s been allowed to continue for so many years without a force of change. No authority seemed concerned that so many systemic deaths have happened, the grieving has had to push to get this far. So many people have lost their lives unnecessarily due to complete incompetence and neglect. How many more have to die? When will it ever end if there is no Public Inquiry now?

Holly Storey of Great Dunmow, Essex, lost her husband Kevin Peters, who was under the care of his local GP and was last seen by a team at Harlow A&E, in 2012:

I have never had proper answers. My Husband Kev was pleading for help, seeing his GP and a Counsellor. But on the few occasions his Counsellor cancelled appointments, he felt let down. We spent 25 years together as a couple, I want people to be accountable for lack of care.

Amanda Cook of Tiptree, Essex, lost her brother Glenn Holmes, who was placed in the care of the NEP, in 2012:

For me, a Public Inquiry will help to protect people in the future who suffer from mental health conditions. They deserve the help that my brother did not get but so desperately wanted.

The whole system needs looking into properly. The staff I met during the time my brother was in the care of the Lakes mental health hospital were more worried about playing on computer games in their staff room, leaving the patients sat, drugged up and winding each other up.

It will also give me some closure on the loss of my brother. I have never been able to move on due to so many unanswered questions. Why did they not believe his troubles? Why could they not see them when it was so clear he needed help? Why was he discharged from hospital when he was telling staff he wanted to end his life? Why was he told he was phoning the crisis team too frequently?

Why is my brother gone now?

Martha Hulme, previously of Colchester, Essex, lost her daughter, Marion Gaskell, who was placed in the care of the NEP in 2011, and died in 2013:

I have spent 5 years trying to get answers from NEP Trust and accountability for the death of my daughter.

I feel strongly for the truth to be told and to prevent any further deaths the only way forward is to have a Public Inquiry.

I have tried myself for 5 years to the detriment of my mental health to get answers but everybody closed rank. By having a Public Inquiry, this won’t be able to happen, and parents, families and loved ones will get the answers they need: accountability that their loved ones were let down and did not get the correct duty of care. This is the only way forward, and how we will all get the answers we need.

Robert Wade, of Sudbury, Suffolk, lost his son Richard Wade, who was placed in the care of NEP in 2015, and died within 12 hours of his admission:

0n 16th May 2015, Richard went to NEPT, Chelmsford, to live; within twelve hours he had sustained the injuries from which he was to die.

In May 2017, Richard’s Death Certificate stated: “Richard’s risk of suicide was not properly and adequately assessed … ” Richard was deemed ‘low risk’ and was under the care of NEPT. In May 2020, Essex Live News stated:”… [a patient] had taken his life hours after being deemed a ‘low suicide risk’ by authorities.” This patient was under the care of EPUT and EPUT is the successor to NEPT.

These and other failings are systemic and lessons have not been learnt, there is something profoundly wrong. The deaths can be stopped but it will take a Public Inquiry to do it.

The debate will take place in Westminster Hall from 4.30 p.m. on Monday 30 November. The debate will be led by Mike Hill MP (Hartlepool) a member of the petitions committee.

Earlier this month, following an investigation the Health and Safety Executive, the Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT), which merged the North and South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trusts, pleaded guilty to having “failed to meet its duties under Section 3 of the Health & Safety Act 1974, thereby exposing vulnerable patients in its care to the risk of self-harm by ligature”

Those who want to join the call for a Public Inquiry should contact Nina Ali and Priya Singh at HJA Solicitors:
Nina Ali, Partner: nali@hja.net
Priya Singh, Associate: psingh@hja.net

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