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Essex Families Respond To Dr Geraldine Strathdee’s Public Announcement On Inquiry Challenges

Hodge Jones & Allen and the families express support for the Chair’s position as another 500 deaths are reported and only 11 out of 14,000 staff invited to give evidence, agreed to attend Inquiry.

On 12 January, Chair to the Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, published a statement voicing her concerns that she would not be able to meet the Terms of Reference for her Review, with the current non-statutory status.

Dr Strathdee also reported that she has met with Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, to express her concerns directly to him, underlining that staff evidence is fundamental to investigating the deaths of patients.

The inquiry, originally set up to investigate 1,500 deaths on Essex mental health wards between 2000 and 2020, had already struggled to gain traction with families, with long-term campaigner Melanie Leahy branding the proposed format ‘toothless’.

The announcement by Dr Strathdee has been welcomed by Hodge Jones & Allen, along with the 80 families they represent. The families have long been campaigning for a statutory public inquiry as the only means of holding to account mental health services, provided by the Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT), between 2000 and 2020.

The call for a statutory public inquiry began, in 2012, when Melanie Leahy lost her son, Matthew, while he was an inpatient at the Linden Centre, Chelmsford. Since then, 80 other families have joined the campaign, across Essex, to push for a statutory public inquiry to compel those called to give evidence.

Melanie Leahy commented: “The announcement from Dr Strathdee is the first bit of good news regarding the inquiry for too long. In the decade since Matthew died, there have been countless false dawns, and I sincerely hope this is not another. I urge the government to take Dr Strathdee’s comments to heart and upgrade proceedings to a statutory public inquiry. I am thankful for the support of all families impacted by this scandal and hope that we have answers soon.”

Priya Singh, one of the leading solicitors at Hodge Jones & Allen, currently representing 80 Essex families said: “We welcome the decision made by Dr Strathdee to publicly share her concerns about the current effectiveness of the Inquiry. From her statement we are pleased to see she has confirmed her commitment “to getting answers for the families and patients as soon as possible.” We are also pleased to hear that she expresses confidence that her concerns “are being treated seriously” by Government.

“The lack of evidence provided by Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT) staff highlights the critical failings across mental health services, and it cannot be ignored – urgent protection is needed for some of the most vulnerable in our society. With only a handful of staff coming forward to give evidence, the inquiry is failing to meet its Terms of Reference.

“The sad truth is that the answer for many bereaved loved ones’ questions lives within the staff that have failed to respond to Dr Strathdee and her team. We must hear these stories to bring peace to families who’ve spent years without answers. Our plea to government is that they respond to Dr Strathdee’s immediately and upgrade the inquiry to a Statutory Public Inquiry.

“Current records are showing that more than 2,000 people have died whilst in the care of Essex Trust. An additional 500 more than previously reported. Our families want to get on and support a Statutory Public Inquiry to allow for lessons to be learnt and for others to benefit across the country from those lessons. We really do need to move forward with a Statutory Public Inquiry now.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, a charity supporting the Essex families in their pursuit of justice, said: “Government has a choice. Do nothing and the lives of men, women and children will continue to be at risk, and we fear there will be more deaths and harms because of unrectified systemic failings. Or do everything in their power to prevent future deaths and give this inquiry statutory powers to compel evidence and ensure the most robust scrutiny to help drive the transformation in culture and leadership that is needed. Learning, accountability, and the safeguarding of lives in the future is in the interest of us all. Bereaved families deserve nothing less.”

Whilst next steps are considered by Government, the inquiry findings will be delayed past their expected release this spring.

A government spokesperson said it was “carefully considering” how to proceed. Essex Members of Parliament, Priti Patel and John Whittingdale have backed the call for a statutory public inquiry and asked to meet with Health Secretary Steve Barclay to discuss next steps.

The inquiry in its current form was initiated by then Minister of State, Nadine Dorries, and was widely rejected by grieving families.

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