24th July 2013

10am Thursday 25 & Friday 26 July 2013
High Court, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London
R (Antoniou) v 1. The CNWL NHS Trust; The Secretary of State for Health; & NHS England CO/7495/2011

A high court challenge to the system for investigating deaths in psychiatric detention in England and Wales will begin on Thursday 25 July. The challenge is being undertaken by Dr Michael Antoniou, whose wife Jane died while detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act (‘MHA’).

Mrs Jane Antoniou, a well known mental health campaigner, was found dead in her room at Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, London on 23 October 2010. She was detained at the time under section. An investigation was launched by the same NHS Trust that had responsibility for Mrs Antoniou’s care in detention (the Central and North West London NHS Trust). Mrs Antoniou’s husband, Dr Michael Antoniou, objected and asked that the investigation be conducted by persons independent of the Trust prior to the inquest, as happens with deaths in police, prison or immigration detention. The Trust refused, as did the then Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, who has ultimate responsibility for investigating the hundreds of deaths in psychiatric detention each year.

Dr Antoniou was granted permission to seek judicial review of that refusal by Mr Justice Irwin QC on 4 October 2011. The full hearing is due to take place this Thursday, 25 July. Dr Antoniou is arguing that the investigations of deaths of sectioned patients pre-inquest is required by the Human Rights Act to be independently conducted, in the same way as is required for deaths in other forms of detention. He is also arguing that it is discriminatory to single out MHA detainees as undeserving of independent investigation.

Dr Antoniou said:

“The Trust’s adversarial conduct raised high levels of suspicion in me that they were trying to hide the truth of what happened to Janey in order to try and avoid public criticism. So I am still left wondering as to exactly what happened the night Janey passed away and if anything could have been done to avoid her death. All of this concern I believe would have been avoided if an independent body had conducted the investigation from the outset.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“The Secretary of State has provided no good reason why those who die whilst detained in hospitals and their families should receive an inferior investigation to those who die whilst detained anywhere else by the State. There is overwhelming evidence that the current system for investigating deaths in mental health detention is not fit for purpose. More rigorous, robust and transparent investigations, with the effective participation of the family, can play a critical role in ensuring that systemic failings are addressed in order to safeguard the lives of others.”

Tony Murphy, solicitor for Michael Antoniou said:

“The law is clear that mental heath detainees are to be afforded the same protection as any other type of detainee. This should include the independent investigation of their deaths in hospital pre-inquest, as bereaved families cannot be expected to have confidence in the NHS investigating itself.”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Jane Antoniou since her death in 2010. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Tony Murphy from Bhatt Murphy solicitors and barrister Paul Bowen QC of Doughty Street chambers.


Notes to editors:

  1. An inquest took place into Mrs Antoniou’s death before HMC Andrew Walker sitting with a jury at North London Coroners Court from 30 April – 16 May 2012. The jury concluded that Mrs Antoniou died as a result of inadvertent self-harm and it returned a narrative verdict criticising aspects of Mrs Antoniou’s care.
  2. Dr Antoniou’s challenge is funded by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He is also supported by the charities INQUEST and Rethink Mental Illness.
  3. The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) figures record that in the ten year period from 2002 to 2011 inclusive there were a total of 3,197 deaths giving an average of 320 deaths in mental health detention each year. http://iapdeathsincustody.independent.gov.uk/news/iap-publishes-statistical-analysis-of-deaths-between-2000-and-2011/
  4. Concern regarding the lack of independent investigation of MHA deaths has been expressed for some time by influential bodies including: the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights; and the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody (now replaced by the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody http://iapdeathsincustody.independent.gov.uk/which is a part of the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody).