The mother and father of a 35-year-old autistic woman who was killed after being hit by a lorry on the A1 in the early hours of 28 July 2016 are taking legal action to try and secure a full and fearless investigation into their daughter’s death, and have asked for the Inquest into their daughter’s death to be transferred to a different coroner.
Colette McCulloch died whilst under the care of Pathway House, a residential care home specialising in autism, part of the privately-run Milton Park Therapeutic Campus near Bedford as her behaviour had become increasingly self-destructive, self-harming and dangerous.
Merry Varney, a partner in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day has written to the chief coroner on their behalf, Judge Mark Lucraft QC asking that the current coroner Ian Pears, the acting senior coroner for Bedfordshire and Luton, be replaced. In the letter Ms Varney cites the ‘complete loss of confidence and trust of the bereaved family’.
Despite three investigations by public bodies, including a safeguarding review, finding failings and neglect in respect of Colette’s care, Mr Pears at a pre-inquest review in December 2016 announced that he only intended to look at the death as a road traffic accident.
Merry Varney from Leigh Day and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC from Doughty Street Chambers argued that the inquest be widened. However, Mr Pears has continued to refuse to confirm Colette’s parents, Andy and Amanda, as witnesses and not sought any evidence from Colette’s care co-ordinator from Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
After Colette jumped from a bridge into a river, her psychiatrist at Pathway House described her actions as “being with suicidal intent”. He requested that Colette be assessed under the Mental Health Act and sectioned, however, these requests were turned down four times by the local NHS Approved Mental Health Professionals Service, who insisted that she was not at risk, despite never meeting Colette in person.
Due to her escalating risks, her treating healthcare professionals decided she could no longer be cared for at Pathway House and she had been served with an eviction notice.
Sussex Partnership NHS trust, who were responsible for Colette’s placement, found her a new care home but during the days leading up to the move her behaviour deteriorated, change being very difficult for all autistic people and Colette was no exception
In a statement provided to the Guardian Jane Asher, president of the National Autistic Society, said: “There can be nothing more terrible than the death of one’s child, except knowing that it might have been prevented.
“It’s vital that Colette’s death is thoroughly investigated,” she added. “If there’s any possibility that a lack of care for this vulnerable young woman contributed to her death, then it’s essential that we learn from her tragedy.”
A spokesperson for Pathway House told the Guardian: “Our priority at all times is the wellbeing, safety and health of the people we support, and we raised concerns about [Colette] on multiple occasions with the health authorities and police.”
A spokesperson for Sussex Partnership NHS trust told the Guardian: “We cannot comment in more detail at this point in time, other than to say we have reviewed the way we monitor the care of people who have been placed in specialist units outside of our local area.”
Colette’s mother Amanda told the Guardian:
“It is in the public interest that the circumstances of Colette’s death are fully and fearlessly investigated, to prevent it happening again.
“We need a full inquest to establish a proper understanding of how the acts and omissions by those responsible for her care contributed to this tragedy. We should not have to fight for this.”
Colette’s father Andy said:
“We believe Colette’s distress was entirely predictable. She shouldn’t have been on that dual carriageway in the early hours of the morning. She should have been at the care home, which promised her that they could and would keep her safe.
“Colette’s death is not just another statistic to be swept under the carpet.
“She had an extraordinary mind. She could have had a life.”
The family are now crowdsourcing to raise funds to pay for a judicial review to reverse the coroner’s decision.
Merry Varney, partner at Leigh Day, who represents the bereaved family, said:
“Inquests are incredibly important and are often the only opportunity for a bereaved family to put their questions to those who they believe failed to protect their loved one.
"Unless Colette’s death is properly, fully and fearlessly investigated the opportunity to ensure other vulnerable people are not at risk and to make improvements is likely to be lost. This not only would compound my clients’ grief, but also fail to protect other families and individuals in the future.”