Matthew Leahy: mother rejects independent inquiry into death of 20-year-old son at Essex mental health unit

Melanie Leahy had been calling for a statutory public inquiry, which would have compelled witnesses to give evidence on oath, and is ‘shocked’ at decision by Health Minister Nadine Dorries

The deaths of mental health patients at an NHS unit in Essex over a 20-year period will be subject to an independent inquiry to begin in February, health minister Nadine Dorries has announced.

Some 25 people have died at facilities run by the North Essex Partnership University Trust (NEP) since 2000, yet despite multiple investigations the families of those who died believe they are still being denied the whole truth. Melanie Leahy, whose son Matthew died at The Linden Centre, a secure mental health unit in Chelmsford, Essex, in November 2012, secured a debate in Parliament on Monday after more than 105,000 people signed her e-petition calling for a statutory public inquiry into the death of her son.

The independent inquiry will cover deaths that have occurred between 2000 and 2020 yet it falls short of the statutory status, which would have compelled witnesses to give evidence on oath, that Ms Leahy has been calling for. She rejected the move “wholeheartedly”.

Ms Leahy said: “I am shocked by the outcome of today’s debate – I have worked for 8 years to get to this point only to get fobbed off again. Nadine Dorries has failed me and all the families that have supported this call for a statutory Public Inquiry – she has not heard a word that we have said and has honoured the age old tradition of governments to carry out tick box exercises and pour whitewash over what is really going on.”

Ms Dorries said she “expects witnesses” to come forward and that “independent means independent”. Six “leading candidates” are currently being considered for chair of the inquiry, which will follow the same protocols as the investigations carried out into the Morecambe Bay maternity scandal and into the rogue breast surgeon James Paterson.

Ms Dorries said: “This is a way to discover what has happened at The Linden Centre over the past 20 years, what culture developed, what practices were in place and what happened to those young boys who died there. That is what is important – getting to the truth. It doesn’t matter what the framework or the structure [of the inquiry] is, what is important is the truth: knowing how those young boys died, what happened and what we can learn from those dreadful mistakes.”

Matthew Leahy

Matthew Leahy was 20 when he was detained in November 2012 under the Mental Health Act and taken to the Linden Centre, a secure mental health unit in Chelmsford, Essex, with a diagnosis of a delusional disorder. Three days after being admitted into what his mother, Melanie, believed was a place of safety, Matthew reported he had been drugged and raped. Four days later he was found hanged in his room.

The post-mortem examination showed traces of the “date rape” drug GBH in Matthew’s blood and four or five needle marks on his groin as well as bruising above and behind both his ankles. He called 999 to report he had been drugged and raped but when police arrived they did not take a statement or examine Matthew as he had been tranquilised by staff and was slurring. The day he died it emerged safety observations on him had not been carried out for hours.

The jury at the 2015 inquest into his death concluded Matthew had suffered “multiple failings and missed opportunities over a long period of time.”

The North Essex Partnership University Trust merged with South Essex Partnership Trust in 2017, to form Essex Partnership Trust.

Earlier in the Westminster Hall debate debate James Cartlidge, Tory MP for South Suffolk, said Matthew’s death was a “terrible, terrible tragedy” and paid tribute to Ms Leahy for her years of campaigning. The death of his constituent Richard Wade at The Linden Centre in 2015 is also expected to form part of the inquiry.

Melanie Leahy with her son Matthew Leahy, who died aged 20 in November 2012 under the care of the NHS Image supplied to writer Paul Gallagher by Melanie
Melanie Leahy, right, with Labour MP Barbara Keeley, who had supported her call for a statutory public inquiry (Photo: Melanie Leahy) 

Mr Cartlidge said: “His is a life which I believe could have been saved, a death that could have been avoided.”

‘Catalogue of errors’

Barbara Keeley, Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South who supported Ms Leahy’s call for a statutory inquiry, said: “This catalogue of errors would be shocking in itself, but it ended with a young man dying. In cases such as Matthew’s we have a duty to learn the lessons and ensure that others in mental health care do not die preventable deaths…. there is so much that needs to change.”

Inquest has worked on 28 cases involving deaths in mental health settings in Essex since 2013, yet preventable deaths have continued. The charity is aware of six inpatients found hanging at The Linden Centre between 2004 and 2019.

“Despite repeated interventions and visits by the Care Quality Commission, people have continued to die in these services.”

Only last month, a mother said she could not comprehend how her “talented” son absconded from The Linden Centre and was hit by a train, four days after being admitted. Jayden Booroff, 23, died on 23 October after he fled. “If he was being cared for properly, I’d still have my son,” said Michelle Booroff.

Credit Paul Gallagher I-news

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