14 August 2019

Wimbledon Magistrates Court
Alexandra Rd, London SW19 7JP
16 August 2019, 10am

Duncan Lawrence was a ‘clinical lead’ and consultant at Lancaster Lodge, a specialist care home for people with mental ill health in Richmond, London. Lawrence proposed considerable changes that resulted in a new care regime at Lancaster Lodge, shortly before teenager Sophie Bennett was found in a critical condition in the home.

Sophie died from her injuries on 4 May 2016. She was 19 years old. Sophie had diagnoses of Bipolar Affective Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and atypical autism. She had been cared for at Lancaster Lodge, which was run by an organisation called Richmond Psychosocial Foundation International, since April 2015. Despite receiving summons from the coroner, Lawrence failed to attend and disclose crucial evidence at the inquest into Sophie’s death. In what INQUEST believes to be an unprecedented case, Lawrence now faces criminal charges as a result of this failure.

On 1 May 2019 at a hearing in West London Coroner’s court, HM Assistant Coroner John Taylor ruled that a fine of £650 should be imposed against Lawrence (the maximum coronial fine being £1,000). Lawrence also failed to attend this hearing. The Coroner then referred the matter to the police and Crown Prosecution Service, who are now charging Lawrence for the offence of ‘withholding evidence/documentation in relation to a coroner’s inquest’ (contrary to schedule 6 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009).

Lawrence will be required to attend Wimbledon Magistrates Court on 16 August 2019 to enter a plea. If he pleads not guilty a date will be set for trial. If he pleads guilty, he may be sentenced on the day. If convicted, Lawrence could face a further fine or potentially imprisonment. INQUEST is not aware of any previous charges of this nature being brought.

The inquest jury in February 2019 found that “neglect” contributed to Sophie’s self-inflicted death. The inquest heard that Duncan Lawrence had taken part in an audit of Lancaster Lodge in January 2016, resulting in changes including the cancellation of all external therapies. These decisions led to the implementation of a new regime and the resignations of senior staff.

Sophie told her family the new regime was like a ‘boot camp’. After protests from residents and staff, therapies were continued but the standard of care at the home fell to the extent that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) assessed the service as ‘inadequate’ in March 2016. However, the home remained open until after Sophie’s death.

The inquest also heard that, despite being employed as a clinical lead and understood by staff to be a medical doctor, Lawrence in fact has a doctorate in public management and administration from Knightsbridge university – an unaccredited institution in Denmark.

Prior to the hearing, the family of Sophie Bennett said: “We waited three years to hear the truth about what happened to our precious daughter and sister. The inquest was very important to the family. We wanted to hear the people involved give their account. We were deeply insulted at the contempt that Dr Lawrence showed to the court, the family and to Sophie’s memory by his failure appear and the un-convincing excuses he provided for his disrespectful behaviour. We therefore welcome his prosecution in the criminal courts.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “Inquests play a vital role in scrutinising the circumstances of preventable deaths like Sophie’s. A full and fair hearing enables the coroner to do their job. As such it is essential that those involved in providing care attend and give the necessary evidence.

We welcome the coroner’s robust response to the failure of Duncan Lawrence to turn up and speak for his actions. This subsequent prosecution is an unprecedented step which we hope will lead to accountability in this case, as well as sending a wider message about the importance of exercising candour and openness following a death.”



For further information please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or email. 

The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Charlotte Haworth-Hird and Rachel Harger of Bindmans LLP and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Sam Jacobs of Doughty Street Chambers. Sophie is survived by her parents Ben and Nicki, and her siblings Natasha, Thomas and Jack.

Following the inquest, the CQC brought a separate prosecution against the charity who ran Lancaster Lodge, Richmond Psychosocial Foundation International, over an alleged failure to provide safe care and treatment (under the Health and Social Care Act 2008), which resulted in Sophie being exposed to the significant risk of avoidable harm. The first hearing took place on 14 June 2019, and another hearing is provisionally scheduled on 13 September 2019 at Ealing Magistrates Court.

On 5 April 2019 the Charity Commission opened a statutory inquiry into RPFI. The inquiry is ongoing. 

Previous press releases:

  • 14 June 2019 - First hearing of CQC prosecution of charity and manager running London care home following death of Sophie BennettINQUEST Media Release
  • 1 May 2019 - CQC to prosecute charity run care provider following death of Sophie Bennett as a coroner fines ‘doctor’ involved ­INQUEST Media Release
  • 30 April 2019 - Coroner to hold hearing on actions of doctor involved in care of Sophie Bennett, 19, who died in charity run care homeINQUEST Media Release
  • 5 April 2019 - Charity Commission opens inquiry into care charity following Coroner’s report – Bindmans Media Release
  • 7 February 2019 - Jury find neglect contributed to self-inflicted death of teenager Sophie Bennett in care home – INQUEST Media Release