Families say inquiry into deaths of mental health patients in Essex doesn’t go far enough

By Rachel Lucas, specialist producer

An independent inquiry to find the “truth” into what happened to mental health patients who died at an Essex hospital has been announced, but families say it does not go far enough.

The inquiry will examine events at the NHS-run Linden Centre over a 20-year period from 2000 to 2020.

Mental health minister Nadine Dorries announced the move at the end of a parliamentary debate for a statutory public inquiry into the death of Matthew Leahy and others under the care of Essex mental health services.

Speaking after the debate, Matthew’s mother Melanie told Sky News she was “shocked” by the decision to only announce an independent inquiry and would “not engage with anything less” than a statutory public inquiry.

Ms Leahy, and other campaigners had argued that a statutory public inquiry was the only way to ensure “justice” as it would be able to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath.

Matthew was 20 years old when he was found dead at the Linden Centre in 2012. His inquest heard that there were a “multiple failings and missed opportunities” leading up to his death.

Ms Leahy said: “Ms Dorries was unable to give any real reason for wanting a general inquiry rather than a statutory inquiry.

“I have worked for eight years to get here – I don’t want a rushed, botched job.

“If Ms Dorries genuinely wants truth, accountability and justice for our loved ones, she must commission a statutory inquiry.”

At the debate, Nadine Dorries defended her decision and said it was important for the inquiry to get to the “truth” and to “ensure all tragic events are given attention”.

She added: “I’ve chosen the route of an independent inquiry, rather than a public statutory inquiry, so that we can move quickly.

“It will be able to call witnesses and undertake a close examination of what actually happened to patients who died at the trust to inform its findings.”

Thanking Ms Leahy on her years of campaigning, the minster for mental health said: “This is a way to discover what happened at the Linden Centre.

“What culture developed, what practices were in place and what happened to those young boys who died in there.”

The Linden Centre was run by North Essex Partnership NHS Trust until 2017 when the trust merged with another to form the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

In November, the trust pleaded guilty to health and safety failings following the deaths of 11 patients between 2004 and 2015.

Monday’s debate took place after Ms Leahy’s online petition reached over 100,000 signatures. She has since been contacted by 55 families who have raised concerns over care by mental health services in Essex.

The minister said the inquiry could take more than 18 months to conclude and hoped to appoint a chair by Christmas.

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