Southend teenager Chris Nota attempted suicide ‘four times’ prior to fatal fall from Queensway bridge

His mum, Julia, is one of many families pushing for a statutory public inquiry into the county’s mental health services

Southend teenager Chris Nota attempted to take his own life “four times” prior to his death in July, his mum has claimed.

The 19-year-old, who suffered from autism, died after falling from the Queensway overpass in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, on Tuesday, July 7.

Chris’ death had a devastating impact on the community, with hundreds of friends and family gathering in the town’s Priory Park to remember the positive impact he had on so many lives.

Speaking to EssexLive, Chris’ mum, Julia Hopper, claims that her son wasn’t able to access the mental health and social care teams who “understood his autism, epilepsy and learning difficulty” and that her formal safeguarding requests were ignored.

Julia is now one of many Essex families fighting for a statutory public inquiry into the county’s mental health services in search of justice for their loved ones.

She claims that more needs to be done to safeguard people with poor mental health, particularly those with autism.

The fight for a public inquiry

In November 2012, Melanie Leahy’s son Matthew was found hanged at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford just a week after being admitted under the Mental Health Act.

She has been pushing for a statutory public inquiry, through which witnesses can be made to give evidence under oath, into the county’s mental health services ever since.

According to Melanie, it’s the only way the affected families will achieve justice for their loved ones.

There are now around 20 Essex families supporting the fight for an inquiry, all of whom have lost a relative during or after being under the care of a mental health service, but the number is growing.

The group has now secured the support of Hodge, Jones & Allen Solicitors who have agreed to work on a pro bono basis to try to secure a public inquiry.

Nina Ali, Partner at HJA, said: “HJA is intent on helping these families secure the justice that they deserve.

“It is essential to get to the truth of what happened – all those families whose loved ones died whilst they were under the care of Essex mental health services are owed answers for their loss.

“A public inquiry is needed to ensure that a comprehensive and in-depth investigation is carried out and those responsible are held to account. It is only then, that things can and will begin to change for the better.

“We urge all affected families and individuals to get in touch with HJA. The call for a public inquiry is to include everyone affected by the failings of Essex mental health services: families of children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly who have died and individuals who have been through ‘the system’ and suffered but survived.”

Priya Singh, Associate at HJA, claims: “It is not only families of the bereaved who are coming forward but also ex-patients from whom we’ve heard shocking reports of abuse suffered by the victims whilst in care. These stories are harrowing.

“Vulnerable people have entered what are meant to be centres of trust and safety – a number voluntarily submitted themselves for help – only to be abused and exploited by some professionals who should protect them.

“They come in with mental health issues and leave – if they leave – in a much worse off state than before.

“No family, no individual should ever have to go through that. These families have been failed by the organisations that are set up to treat and care for patients.”

“A beautiful soul”

Chris Nota died on July 7, 2020
Chris Nota died on July 7, 2020

According to Autistica, the UK’s national autism research charity, children with autism are 28 times more likely to think about or attempt suicide.

But despite his difficulties, while also suffering from psychosis and depression during the last few years of his life, Chris was an incredibly sociable person who had many friends.

“He was a beautiful soul,” Julia said. “He was the most beautiful streak of light, you would wet yourself laughing he was so funny. He was full of love and gentleness.

“He went to mainstream school and punched above his weight because he was fiercely social.”

But his mental health took a downturn when Julia’s mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer around five years ago.

Julia said: “He worshipped her and she worshipped him, the concept of her mortality was far too much for him to process.

“He was being bullied at school but he couldn’t tell me, he was too proud.”

His depression soon came to a head, and Chris attempted to take his own life for the first time in 2017 when he was just 16.

Julia claims that Chris failed to receive treatment following the first attempt after a meeting was cancelled due to no psychiatrist being available, leading to him “self-medicating” with cannabis as a way of coping with his depression.

“He was doing well for three years,” Julia added. “After he left college he wanted a job but it takes a bit longer [for autistic people] to get them so he was self-medicating with cannabis.

That is a form of self-medicating because he is trying to address his own needs because no one else was.”

Julia claims that Chris then entered a phase of cannabis-induced psychosis earlier this year, before three more failed attempts at taking his own life.

And just seven days after being released from hospital following his last failed attempt, Chris fell from the overpass on Queensway in Southend and tragically died.

The inquest into Chris’ death is currently pending.

Demanding a “place of safety”

Chris suffered from autism, learning difficulties and anxiety

For the last five weeks of his life, Chris was placed in a mental health rehabilitation home because Julia believed he wasn’t safe.

Julia claims she was called by a member of staff at the home “half an hour” after Chris had fallen from the bridge on July 7, asking if she knew where he was.

“They rang me half an hour after,” Julia said. “They asked if Chris was here.

“They said ‘he’s gone out and we wondered if he was with you?’ I was a bit worried that he was out on his own.

“Chris was housed in a place he could walk straight out the door.

“I demanded he be in a place of safety because he was intent on dying, for whatever reason. It was a lot for him to be dealing with, lockdown, epilepsy and autism.

“If someone had rung me saying he wanted to go out or said he’s headed out the door, I would have grabbed my keys and run, I was five minutes away.”

Julia then received a call from one of Chris’ friends regarding some posts on social media about an incident in Southend, and she became increasingly concerned.

She then called her friend Maggie Clearly, who runs the ‘Southend SEND Parents’ support group with Julia, to check if Chris was the person involved.

“The police drove round,” she said. “They’ve been incredible, they are heartbroken about this.

“It was a very unfortunate duty to tell me that he was critically ill, the helicopter had landed and they were trying a life-saving procedure.

“But they broke the news to me that he had died while they were here.”

Julia claims she has made numerous requests for Chris’ patient records before and after he died, but claims she is yet to receive anything.

A spokesperson for the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) said: “We extend our deepest sympathy to Chris’s loved ones.

“An internal investigation into Chris’s death is ongoing so that we can ensure that any lessons that can be learned from this tragic event, are.

“Patient safety remains our absolute priority as an organisation, and our findings will be shared with Chris’s family.”

“I pleaded for his life”

Following his last failed attempt at taking his own life, Chris was admitted to hospital on a voluntary basis.

He was taken to the Basildon Hospital Mental Health Unit where Julia claims he spent three days before being released.

“He was not able to access teams that understood his autism,” Julia said. “He was not able to be connected to people who would acknowledge that and act accordingly.

“He ricocheted out of hospital. He was in and out within three days the last time and he wasn’t sectioned, it was voluntary.

“He was allowed to walk out of a hospital and seven days later he was dead.

“I made formal safeguarding requests and they were ignored. I pleaded for his life.”

Joining the push for a public inquiry

Following Chris’ death, Julia has joined the fight for a public inquiry following a series of failings from mental health services in Essex.

And Chris’ friends are equally as passionate about supporting mental health. They’ve set up a GoFundMe page – Chris The Kind Hearted Giant – to raise awareness as well as money to fund a memorial bench in Chris’ name.

Julia claimed: “If the inquiry had been undertaken and someone had listened my son wouldn’t be dead. It’s our responsibility to not stop.

“I think it’s the only way. We watched Melanie fight on her own like a dog to win 105,000 signatures of people who haven’t lost relatives, they looked at what she wrote for 30 seconds and thought ‘that would be a good idea’. The whole country needs it.

“Some people have let us down and broken our hearts, but members of the public have rebuilt our hearts because they’ve stood up when they didn’t need to. These are the things that keep us alive.

“It’s in everyone’s interests to uphold standards and laws and justice. We have to safeguard them.

“It’s critical because it will save lives.”

Cllr Trevor Harp, cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “We were shocked to hear of the tragic passing of Mr Nota, and our thoughts remain with his family and friends at this time.

“As with any case of this nature, a full review is being undertaken alongside partner agencies and as such, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Credit : Elliot Hawkins

Please follow and like us: