Essex Families – Support From Parliament Grows For A Statutory Public Inquiry
Roundtable with Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health follows last week’s parliamentary debate on Essex cases
A group of 23 families from Essex, represented by law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, have attended a roundtable with Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health. This was the latest push in a long-term campaign for a statutory public inquiry to investigate 1,500 deaths on Essex mental health wards between 2000 and 2020. The families view this as the only viable means of holding to account mental health services, provided by the Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT).
The ongoing non-statutory inquiry has struggled to gain traction with families, who branded the proposed form ‘toothless’ from the outset as it means that staff are not compelled to provide fundamental evidence. Just last month, 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.
The call for a statutory public inquiry began, in 2015, 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.
Following the meeting with the families, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP said: “It was simply heart-breaking to hear families’ accounts of what happened to their loved ones. I am shaken to my core by what I have heard and I am so sorry for the pain that all of the families have to live through while fighting for justice and answers.
“At the heart of the matter, is the fact that this Government is not putting patients, and their families, first. The right way forward is a statutory public inquiry and I stand beside these families and will do everything in my power to help them.”
Melanie Leahy commented: “Today’s roundtable with the shadow minister was one more step in the right direction and we hope it applies yet more pressure on the Government to make the right decision and add the statutory powers to the current toothless inquiry that has been commissioned. In the decade since Matthew died, there have been countless false dawns, but we are seeing the ray of light as finally, people are starting to listen. Yet the longer this goes on, more people are dying. I am thankful for the support of all the families and survivors impacted by this scandal and hope that we all have the answers we deserve very soon. I want to know what happened to my son and find out why so many repeat failings and multiple deaths have been allowed to continue for so many years. They say time is a healer, but we are getting no healing in this living nightmare. We urge the government to do the right thing. Add the statutory powers. Find out what’s been going so terribly wrong here in Essex. Learn from these mistakes and send that learning across our nation.”
Nina Ali, one of the leading solicitors at Hodge Jones & Allen, currently representing 80 Essex families said: “We welcomed the meeting with Dr Rosena Allin-Khan as we continue to push hard for justice for these families who have suffered so much from not seeing adequate action, having so tragically lost their loved ones. We desperately need the help of the shadow minister as the Government is not listening.
“The lack of evidence provided to the current inquiry by 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.
“We must hear these stories to bring peace to families who’ve spent years without answers. Our plea to the government is unchanged, an immediate upgrade to a statutory public inquiry is the only answer otherwise we are banging on closed doors.
“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.”