Care home consultant to be sentenced over failure to cooperate with inquest

A consultant who admitted failing to cooperate at the inquest of a mentally ill teenager who killed herself in care will finally be sentenced later this month after a court ruled he could not change his plea to not guilty.

The landmark case of 60-year-old Duncan Lawrence (pictured) took another turn at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday when district judge Andrew Sweet ordered Lawrence’s original admission should stand.

The charge relates to the inquest of Sophie Bennett, 19, who took her own life at the “chaotic” Lancaster Lodge in Richmond, south-west London, three years ago after comparing a new regime Lawrence had ushered in with a “boot camp”.

An inquest jury found in February that neglect contributed to Ms Bennett’s death in May 2016, and that oversight at the facility was “grossly inadequate”, with Lawrence being fined £650 by the coroner.

Lawrence initially told police he was “100% guilty” but later informed probation officers he was “innocent” of the charge after being warned by judges that he faced custody – he previously believed he would be fined.

Returning his ruling in court on Wednesday, the judge said: “It seems to me that he (Lawrence) has changed his mind about his plea out of tactical considerations.

“The court is entitled to hold Mr Lawrence to his original admission.”

Lawrence, wearing a blue jumper and grey trousers, showed no reaction as the decision was returned.

Speaking to the PA news agency after the case, Ms Bennett’s parents Ben and Nickie welcomed the decision but criticised Lawrence over his failure to provide information about the care facility to authorities.

Mrs Bennett said: “I am pleased that he (the district judge) kind of saw through the act that Lawrence was putting on.

“He tried to come across as some sort of shambling bloke who was confused, but the judge said himself that he was clearly intelligent.”

Mr Bennett added: “We really feel like the whole judicial system has indulged him, and given him more and more chances – yet I don’t think the system has been geared to get justice for us.

“The inquest should have been closure for us, but it was not. There are still some pieces of the jigsaw about what happened which are missing.

“Lawrence’s behaviour has been extraordinary, and we are left wondering what he is hiding.”

Despite being the clinical lead at the home and understood by staff to be a medical doctor, Ms Bennett’s inquest heard Lawrence did not have a legitimate doctorate, and had obtained a certificate from Knightsbridge University – a “degree mill” based in Denmark.

He was the interim manager at the home when Care Quality Commission (CQC) staff arrived for an urgent inspection two months before Ms Bennett’s death, ranking the home inadequate in a number of areas.

Lawrence, of Sydenham in south-east London, will be sentenced at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court on October 30, where he could face an immediate custodial term.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.