Read at the final hearing of the trial of Duncan Lawrence
Wimbledon Magistrates Court, 30th October, 2019

Our beautiful and much-loved daughter Sophie died three and a half years ago now. She suffered from serious mental health problems from an early age. Through her teenage years she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act a number of times. She spent a lot of time in Springfield psychiatric hospital and in the care of the community mental health services. As a family we know the challenge of caring for people with serious mental illness and have always been grateful to and supportive of the staff who looked after her. Nearly all of them were extremely dedicated hard working and caring people. There were times when the care Sophie received was not as good as it could have been and there were isolated incidents when we could have made formal complaints. But we preferred to try and be constructive and supportive. After Sophie’s death we raised £20,000 in her memory for Aquarius ward at Springfield where she spent a lot of time as a teenager.

We waited nearly three years for the inquest into Sophie’s death. It should have been the event where we would hear a full account of what happened. This was important to us both as part of our own grieving process but also because we want lessons to be learned for the care of others in the future. It has been a constant and exhausting struggle to try and ensure that all the processes, investigations and inquiries are properly conducted and completed. The inquest should have finally revealed the full truth to us about Sophie’s avoidable death. Duncan Lawrence’s behaviour denied us this.

When Sophie first went to Lancaster Lodge it was a great place. It was not without its risks. Such a home can never be but the manager Vincent Hill impressed us. He was clearly genuinely dedicated and caring. Sophie began to thrive and we had real hope for her. Then suddenly it all changed. Duncan Lawrence and Peggy Jhugroo were brought in by Elly Jansen the shadow director of the charity that ran the home. Vincent Hill was forced out and within a short period of time the home went from being a caring, kind and therapeutic place to a shambolic, unsafe and uncaring place. Duncan Lawrence’s role in this change was pivotal. We understand that people make mistakes. The failures that led to Sophie’s death however were not just honest mistakes that any care worker or clinician might make. The failures resulted from serious organisational and managerial recklessness instigated and perpetrated wilfully by a few key individuals who still need to be held to account for their actions. The conclusions of the inquest jury clearly support this view (see Appendix which I exhibit as BB/1).

Since Sophie’s death these individuals have done everything they can to delay or avoid telling the truth about what happened. In Lawrence’s case this extended to failing to cooperate with the coroner despite exhaustive efforts on the part of the court to facilitate his appearance. The family consider this to be an extremely serious crime. It is a fundamental duty of a citizen to cooperate with a coroner’s inquest. There is simply no excuse for this failure. The fact that such a crime is completely unprecedented in the English coronial system would tend to support this view. Lawrence is the first person ever to have been convicted for these crimes. He was fined by the coroner for the offence of failing to appear and give evidence when summoned to do so and today he is being sentenced for failing to provide evidence to the coroner.

During the inquest the coroner’s clerks were in touch with Lawrence trying to arrange his appearance as a witness. He had claimed to be in Alaska caring for a sick parent. The validity of this claim was never established. We overheard one of the legal team for the charity saying that they had called his mobile phone and got a UK not a USA ring tone. In any case it was agreed that he could appear via a video link. When the time came he failed to appear. This just added to the distress of the family. We’d waited nearly 3 years to hear what he had to say. We would have liked to have him appear in person but we’d accepted that it would be by video link despite our suspicions that he was not in fact in Alaska. To add further insult we have subsequently found out that on the day he was to appear the coroner’s clerk tested the video connection prior to the start of proceedings and the person that the clerk talked to on the video link was not Lawrence. It was someone pretending to be him. This extraordinary fact is something that has never been explained.

The conclusions of the jury at Sophie’s inquest and the coroner’s prevention of future deaths report were damning and set out a compelling account of the neglect that she suffered. The 3-week inquest was traumatic and exhausting for us as a family. It was made worse by the failure of Lawrence to give an account of what happened and his part in it. The family was astounded, upset and insulted by the string of lame and disingenuous excuses that he gave to the coroner’s court for his failure to cooperate.

We have been left with an incomplete account of what happened. It is the family’s view that there are several unresolved probably criminal matters that require review and re-investigation.

By failing to allow the family, and other interested parties to question him and see the evidence he has withheld Lawrence has managed to evade the scrutiny that might reveal his personal culpability or throw further light on the actions of others. There are several specific matters that the family would wish to have questioned him about.

There is also the matter of his behaviour in relation to the charges he is being sentenced for today. This is his 5th appearance at Wimbledon magistrates’ court. He initially appeared here on 16 August when he pleaded guilty to the charge. He was not legally represented at that hearing and at a subsequent hearing on 26 August the case was further adjourned to give him the opportunity to seek legal advice. At the next hearing on 12 September he was permitted to make a case to change his plea from guilty to not guilty. At a further hearing on 9 October his application to change his plea to ‘not guilty’ was refused and there was a further adjournment until today.

We have attended all these hearings and observed and listened to him. He has consistently presented himself to this court as someone who is confused and bewildered by his situation and struggling to understand and answer questions put to him. This contrasts noticeably with his demeanour outside the court room when in conversation with his legal advisors. We are grateful that the judge saw through this act describing him, at the previous hearing, as a ‘clearly educated man’.

Through all these appearances Lawrence has not once taken the opportunity to express his condolences to the family. His main explanation for his failure to cooperate with the coroner has been his claim to have been caring for his sick parents who have both subsequently died. We are very sorry about the death of his mother and father and wish to express our condolences to him for his loss. Incidentally my Mother – Sophie’s Grandma died in June last year which meant she never got to hear the conclusion of the inquest – that Sophie did not intend to take her own life.

We have been deeply insulted and distressed by the contempt that he has shown to us, the court and to Sophie’s memory by his behaviour. We can only conclude that he has something to hide and the family are making submissions to the Police and CPS to re-open previous, and carry out further, criminal investigations.

The justice system seems to have bent over backwards to indulge Lawrence and Jugroo whilst Sophie’s family continue to be failed by it. On top of losing Sophie we also have had to deal with the distress that this has caused us and the significant detrimental effect on our own psychological well-being. It is ironic that Lawrence presents himself (in web-based media) as an expert in counselling and psychotherapy and yet seems oblivious and unconcerned about the upset and distress his unprecedented failure to cooperate has on our family. It is also an extraordinary fact that at the time that Jughroo managed the home she also worked full time for London Borough of Wandsworth children services and was allowed, after a period of suspension, to remain in their employment Wandsworth has persistently refused to explain this highly inappropriate arrangement or its current employment relationship with her.

It is the family’s view that the court has no other option but to impose the maximum sentence, at its disposal, on Lawrence today. He can be given absolutely no credit for lodging a guilty plea given that he has tried to change this only because it dawned on him that a guilty plea would not exempt him from a custodial sentence. Indeed, the further distress that his numerous appearances in this court have caused the family, not to mention the waste of scarce court resources this has consumed, should count firmly against him. He can no longer be indulged by the system he is so flagrantly and enduringly contemptuous of. We take no comfort from this because whatever sentence he gets today still does not give us what he owes us which is an honest account of what happened and submission of the evidence that he has withheld.

The family would like to express its thanks to the charity INQUEST and to our lawyers Bindmans LLP for the generous support they continue to provide the family. 

Ben, Nickie, Natasha, Thomas and Jack Bennett