Essex mental health trust fined £1.5m for safety failings over deaths of 11 patients

Melanie Leahy with her son, Matthew, who died while in the care of the Essex mental health trust in 2012. She has spent the last nine years campaigning into the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.

Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust pleaded guilty in November to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive.

A mental health trust has been fined £1.5m for safety failings over the deaths of 11 patients where a point of ligature was used in a ward setting.

Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust pleaded guilty in November to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The HSE identified 11 deaths where a “point of ligature was used within the ward environment of the Trust’s premises” between October 2004 and March 2015. The trust merged with South Essex Partnership Trust in 2017 to form Essex Partnership Trust.

The Trust was sentenced at a hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court on Wednesday. Judge Mr Justice Cavanagh said a “litany” of failings had been identified over a prolonged period which led to the trust’s failure to “prevent suicides”.

Melanie Leahy, whose son Matthew died at the Trust’s Linden Centre mental health unit, Chelmsford in 2012, said a full public inquiry is still needed into Essex mental health services despite the sentencing. The Government has announced an independent inquiry into failings over a 20-year period at the Linden Centre, but the families who have lost loved ones have said they will only be satisfied with a full statutory public inquiry, which would compel witnesses to come forward and give evidence on oath.

Ms Leahy said: “While I welcome the fine handed down today against EPUT, it merely represents a slap on the wrist for a Trust that has failed and continues to fail countless families across Essex. Despite countless investigations and reviews, I am no closer to finding out what caused the death of my son almost 9 years ago.

“I once again renew my call on the Government to convert their inquiry into a full statutory inquiry that has the legal powers to compel testimony, under oath. My family, and the others failed by the Mental Health Services in Essex, cannot settle for anything less. We have a duty to find out what led to the deaths of our loved ones, and a duty to ensure lessons are learnt, hopefully sparing other families from the indescribable pain we’ve been through.”

Lisa Morris, who lost her son Ben in 2008, aged 20, while at the Liden Centre, said: “Once again it has been proven that the care given to our loved ones by Mental Health Services in the county was inept. However, despite our long campaign, today’s sentencing does not bring us justice. In the middle of a mental health pandemic, it is crucial that failings must be identified and lessons learnt, until this happens the Government cannot look the public in the eye and tell them they are serious about mental health.”

The families are represented by Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors and supported by the charity INQUEST, which works with the families of state-related deaths and their investigations.

Priya Singh, a solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “Today’s fine of £1.5 million handed to EPUT following the HSE investigation simply highlights the failings of mental health care in Essex. While the fine is welcome news, the families are still left with many unanswered questions, and this fine does not represent justice. It only scratches the surface of what is going so badly wrong in Essex. The only way to establish the truth of the gross failings in care across Essex Mental Health Services is through holding a full statutory public inquiry. We urge Ms Dorries to covert the existing inquiry to a full and comprehensive statutory inquiry.”

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