5 March 2019

Martin Oldham, Assistant Coroner
Bedfordshire Coroners Court
Opens Wednesday 6 March 2019, 10am

Colette McCulloch was 35 when she died in road traffic on the A1 in the early hours of 28 July 2016. She had been diagnosed with autism and had a history of mental ill health.  At the time of her death she was under the care of Pathway House near Bedford, a residential care home for people with these dual diagnoses. The inquest into her death will open on Wednesday 6 March.

Colette grew up in London, moved to Sussex to study English at university and stayed on after graduating. Her family say Colette was a cheeky, hyper-active and creative child, before she ‘hit a long tunnel’ of mental ill health. She experienced Anxiety, OCD, and Anorexia until eventually, aged 33, she was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Colette was placed in Pathway House in February 2015 by Sussex Partnership NHS Trust. The house is near Bedford, outside of her local area, and is part of the privately-run Milton Park Therapeutic Campus. During her time there, Colette was allowed overnight leave on numerous occasions, despite becoming distraught and disorientated after leaving the facility. She had to be brought back to Pathway House on several occasions by the police and members of the public.

Before her death, repeated requests from care professionals and her family for an assessment under the Mental Health Act were rejected by the local Approved Mental Health Service, run jointly by Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council and East London NHS Foundation Trust.

When she died, the original coroner decided to only investigate the death as a road traffic accident and initially refused to engage Article 2 (the duty to investigate under the ‘right to life’ of the Human Rights Act), meaning the family were not entitled to apply for legal aid. Colette’s parents were forced to fight to have the scope of the inquest widened, to ensure it examined the care Colette had been receiving.

The family had to crowdfund to cover legal costs to challenge the decisions of the original coroner. Following those legal challenges, he stepped down and Martin Oldham, current assistant coroner in Bedfordshire, was appointed. The new coroner will consider the care Colette received and is conducting an Article 2 inquest. The family have now been able to access some legal aid funding, and are supporting INQUEST’s campaign on Legal Aid for Inquests to support others.  

Andy McCulloch, Colette's father, said: "Colette could talk the talk, write the story, paint the picture but sadly her autistic mind found life and just being, almost impossible. Colette died while in a clinic for her high functioning autism. Any failings in her care must be exposed to prevent them happening again. In our legal system this can only be done through an open inquest. For that legal aid is essential for the majority of bereaved families.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “If it wasn’t for the perseverance of this family, and their legal representation, Colette’s death would not be receiving the necessary scrutiny. This case raises serious questions about the quality of care available for women with multiple needs, such as mental ill health and autism. Without examining possible systemic failings, the preventative role of the inquest is undermined.”


For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact Lucy McKay or Sarah Uncles on 020 7263 1111 or email Lucyemail Sarah

INQUEST has been working with the family of Colette McCulloch since February 2017. The family are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members, Merry Varney of Leigh Day solicitors and Sam Jacobs of Doughty St Chambers.  

The inquest is scheduled to be held on 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 20 and 21 March 2019. The full address of the court is: Bedfordshire Coroners Court, The Court House, Woburn Street, Bedfordshire, MK45 2HX.

See the CrowdJustice appeal by the family, which helped fund their legal challenges.

The family’s solicitor Merry Varney wrote about the McCulloch’s challenge and the struggle for legal aid in a blog for OpenDemocracy in December 2018.

Research suggests girls and women with autism are frequently undiagnosed, or diagnosed much later in life, due to gender bias. See recent media coverage.