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Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen Joins Call For Statutory Public Inquiry Into 2000 Deaths At An NHS Trust In Essex

Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University is latest to join calls for a statutory public inquiry into 2000 deaths at an NHS Trust in Essex

Leading autism researcher Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen has joined calls for a statutory public inquiry into the deaths of around 2,000 patients of a mental health ward in Essex. The deaths occurred between 2000 and 2020 and all those who died were either patients under Essex Partnership University Trust (EPUT) or had been discharged within three months of their death.

Despite the shocking number of deaths, only 11 members of staff out of 14,000 contacted by the inquiry said they would attend an evidence session, and only 1 in 4 staff members who were directly involved in the care of those who died said they would provide evidence .

Campaigners argue that a statutory inquiry is needed because of its powers to compel witnesses such as staff members to give evidence1. It is difficult to argue against this, given that even the Chair of the current inquiry, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, wrote that it was her view that the inquiry would not be able to meet its terms of reference with a non-statutory status if staff engagement remained very poor2.

Two bereaved parents, Melanie Leahy and Julia Hopper, are campaigning, with 80 other families, for a full statutory inquiry to ensure that all the required evidence is included in the investigation. Julia’s son Chris was autistic, and both Melanie and Julia believe a significant number of those who died had this in common.

Melanie and Julia reached out to Professor Baron-Cohen, who listened to their experiences as to why a statutory inquiry is so important. Their stories compelled him to commit his support to the ongoing campaign for statutory status, including ongoing meetings with the families involved. He will also work on building support with parliamentarians.

In addition, Professor Baron-Cohen and his team will work with affected families and the wider autism community to co-design new scientific research as part of a broader suicide prevention project. This is being led by the Autism Centre of Excellence at Cambridge (ACE), a charity that translates research evidence into real-world outcomes for autistic people around the world.

Professor Baron-Cohen is Director of ACE, as well as of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has published over 700 peer-reviewed scientific articles and received a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List in 2021 for his services to autistic people.

Professor Baron-Cohen explained: “I want to lend my support to these remarkable campaigners and courageous parents. Melanie and Julia have shared their concerns that autistic people are disproportionately affected by the impacts of the alleged failings in mental health services. We need to conduct research that will provide the scientific evidence that leads to recommendations for suicide prevention in the future.”

Melanie Leahy, whose son Matthew died whilst under the care of mental health care services in Essex, said: “I welcome Simon’s support of our #matthewscampaign. Quality research alongside a statutory public inquiry is the only way we can improve mental health care for everyone, including autistic people, who are vulnerable because of their disability, their mental health, and inadequate support. I hope the Government will listen to Simon’s expert opinion, along with a host of other knowledgeable and high-profile supporters and will initiate a statutory public inquiry into Essex Mental Health Services now.”

Priya Singh, Senior Associate at Hodge Jones & Allen, representing the families, said: “We welcome Professor Sir Baron-Cohen’s support at this critical time for the families. They still have so many unanswered questions. We know from our legal work that current mental healthcare services in Essex are failing some of the most vulnerable members of our society. A statutory public inquiry is the only way we can compel witnesses to attend and ensure the relevant evidence is obtained. It is only by understanding what has gone so terribly wrong in these services that we will learn how to put things right and to bring about the changes that are so urgently needed”.
#essexMHdeaths #matthewscampaign #matthewleahy #statutorypublicinquiry

Notes for Editors

  1. Essex Members of Parliament, Vicky Ford, John Whittingdale and Priti Patel, have backed the call for a statutory public inquiry and asked to meet with Health Secretary Steve Barclay to discuss the next steps.
  2. The inquiry in its current form was initiated by then Minister of State, Nadine Dorries, and was widely rejected by grieving families.
  3. Additional information on the families fight for justice can be found here: