Media Media releases Witness sentenced to months in prison for failure to attend inquest into the death of Sophie Bennett 30 October 2019 Duncan Lawrence has today been convicted and sentenced to four months imprisonment for ‘withholding evidence/documentation in relation to a coroner’s inquest’ (contrary to schedule 6 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009). The hearing took place today at Wimbledon Magistrates Court and was Lawrence’s fifth court appearance on these charges due to numerous adjournments. 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 and 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. INQUEST believes this is the first time a witness at an inquest has been criminally charged for a failure to participate. The sentence is in addition to a fine of £650 imposed against Lawrence by the coroner on 1 May 2019. Today’s sentencing was the fifth hearing of this case, after various back and forth with Lawrence’s plea. The family report that Lawrence consistently presented himself to the court as someone who was confused and bewildered and struggling to understand and answer questions put to him. They say this contrasts noticeably with his demeanour outside the court room, and the way in which Lawrence presents himself online as a well-educated expert in counselling and psychotherapy. The family of Sophie Bennett said: “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. Duncan Lawrence’s behaviour denied us this. Lawrence and others have done everything they can to delay or avoid telling the truth about what happened. In Lawrence’s case this was despite exhaustive efforts on the part of the coroner’s court to facilitate his appearance. We have been deeply insulted and appalled by the contempt Lawrence has shown to the family, the court and to Sophie’s memory. 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. We welcome the sentence passed today. However, we take no comfort from it because it still does not give us what he owes us: an honest account and the withheld evidence of what happened to our beautiful and much-loved daughter.” The full victim impact statement from the family, which was read in court today, is available here. Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “This unprecedented prosecution sends a welcome message about the importance of witnesses exercising candour and openness following a death, and was a result of robust action from the coroner. It is a step forward for accountability more broadly, but just a first step for accountability in this case, which must now be re-examined and informed by much needed evidence from Duncan Lawrence.” Tomorrow (31 October) at Ealing Magistrates court there will be a hearing of the prosecution of the charity Richmond Psychosocial International Foundation (RPFI) and manager Peggy Jhugroo, who ran Lancaster Lodge. ENDS NOTES TO EDITORS For further information please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected] 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. Background 4 May 2016: Sophie died having applied a ligature on 2 May 2016 whilst in the care of Lancaster Lodge, a therapeutic community run by RPFI. 7 February 2019: An inquest jury found that “neglect” contributed to Sophie’s self-inflicted death. 5 April 2019: The Charity Commission opened a statutory inquiryinto RPFI. This inquiry is also ongoing. 1 May 2019: After 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. Care Quality Commission announced their decision to prosecute charity Richmond Psychosocial International Foundation (RPFI) as well as Peggy Jhugroo, the manager of Lancaster Lodge 14 June 2019: First hearing of CQC prosecution of charity and manager of Lancaster Lodge following death of Sophie Bennett. 16 August 2019: The first hearing of the criminal trial of Duncan Lawrence, on failing to give evidence to the inquest, took place after the Coroner referred the matter to the police and Crown Prosecution Service. Previous hearings of this case: Lawrence first appeared at the court on 16 August 2019, when he pleaded 100% guilty to the charge. He was not legally represented initially 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 Lawrence 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 was refused and there was a further adjournment until today, when Lawrence was found guilty and sentenced to four months imprisonment. ‘Dr’ Duncan Lawrence: The inquest heard that, despite being employed as a clinical lead and understood by staff to be a medical doctor, Duncan Lawrence in fact has a doctorate in public management and administration from Knightsbridge university – an unaccredited institution in Denmark. Lancaster House: 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.