14 December 2020

It is our view, along with that of the families, that only a statutory public inquiry with the active participation of bereaved families can ensure the broad ranging public scrutiny needed to improve the standard of care and prevent future deaths in Essex Mental health services.

INQUEST has written to Nadine Dorries MP, Minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety, to request an urgent meeting as bereaved families reject the Governments ‘toothless’ independent inquiry.

The proposal for an independent inquiry into deaths at the Linden Centre in Essex from 2000 to the present day was made during a parliamentary debate on Deaths in mental health care. However, bereaved families and INQUEST had called instead for a statutory inquiry that would be able to compel witnesses to give evidence and for an inquiry into all Essex Mental Health services, not just the Linden Centre.

It would set a shameful precedent for you to proceed with establishing an inquiry that does not have the trust and confidence of the families who have already been so devastatingly failed by the services that should have kept their loved ones safe.

INQUEST Director, Deborah Coles

Read the letter

The debate was a result of a successful petition by Melanie Leahy, supported by over 105,000 people calling for a public inquiry into the death of her son, Matthew Leahy, in the Linden Centre in 2012.

Since Melanie Leahy’s petition and her relentless campaigning, a much wider group of families have come forward to raise their concerns about the failures in care and treatment by Essex mental health services and call for a statutory public inquiry.

An open letter written by Melanie Leahy and campaigners to Prime Minister was signed by over 2000 families to express their disappointment at the proposal and repeat their call for a full statutory public inquiry.

 We demand answers that will not just provide justice for our loved ones, but also provide vital learning to make sure no other families go through our pain.

- Melanie Leahy

The parliamentary debate highlighted national failures in mental health services across the country. MPs had been contacted by bereaved families and their concerns and harrowing experiences were put on the record. MPs also expressed their support for a statutory public inquiry.

 Only a public inquiry will have the transparency and broad participation needed to rebuild trust in the services. The Minister will know that that is the only way that witnesses can be compelled to give evidence without seeking to apportion blame, and evidence must be given on oath.

– Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South, Labour MP)

Kim Johnson MP (the Labour representative for Liverpool Riverside) asked the Minister how we can challenge and improve the very process and culture of attaining inquiries, so that families bereaved by state neglect are at the heart of conversations about accountability and change, not blocked, bullied, stigmatised or cast aside with accusations of being a nuisance, during their quest for truth and justice.

It is absolutely right that we commit to uncover the truth about the significant failings in the care and treatment of vulnerable patients, and that the mantra of “learning lessons” is not merely a soundbite accompanied by endless toothless reviews but results in substantive and tangible change.

 - Kim Johnson MP

An independent inquiry without the backing of the families affected will not take us further than the countless previous investigations and inquests. None have prevented further deaths or enabled accountability and change. Now nothing less than a full Statutory Public Inquiry will suffice.

The minister’s initial response to the petition was to state that a statutory public inquiry was an inappropriate way of looking into one or two cases, yet the evidence clearly points to this being a pattern on repeated systemic failures, leading to a significantly number of preventable deaths.

In the INQUEST Parliamentary Briefing, as well as supporting a public inquiry, we asked MPs to support the call for independent investigations into deaths in mental health settings. And to call for the formation of a National Oversight Mechanism, which would collate, analyse and monitor learning and implementation of recommendations from state-related deaths, to ensure accountability and prevent future deaths.

INQUEST stands with the families affected by deaths in Essex mental health services, and will continue to support their calls for justice.

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