Care home consultant to be sentenced over no-show at inquest into death of teenager

A consultant faces a possible jail sentence today after he admitted failing to cooperate at the inquest of a mentally ill teenager who killed herself while in care.

Duncan Lawrence, 60, is due at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court to be sentenced in what is thought to be the first criminal case of its kind, following the death of 19-year-old Sophie Bennett at Lancaster Lodge in Richmond, south-west London, more than three years ago.

Teenager Ms Bennett (pictured), who suffered from serious mental health problems for many years, compared the new regime Lawrence ushered in at Lancaster Lodge with a “bootcamp”.

An inquest jury in February this year found 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 after he failed to give evidence at the hearing, despite repeated attempts to engage him.

Lawrence was later charged over his lack of involvement in the inquest process, subsequently telling police he was “100% guilty” of the charge.

Prosecutor Colette Hanna previously accused Lawrence, of Sydenham, south east London, of “putting his head in the sand” after being issued with summons to give evidence at the inquest.

However, Lawrence later tried to change his plea when he discovered his punishment might extend beyond a mere fine – a course of action refused by judge Andrew Sweet during an administrative hearing earlier this month.

Mr Sweet 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.”

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, who is on bail, will be sentenced at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court today, where he could face an immediate custodial term.

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