Mental health charity fined £40,000 over teenager’s death at residential care home

A healthcare charity has been fined £40,000 over the death of a mentally ill teenager.

Sophie Bennett, 19, was found hanged in a bathroom in Lancaster Lodge, a residential care home in Richmond, west London, in May 2016 – just over a year after she was admitted in April 2015.

The teenager, from Tooting in south-west London – who had bipolar, atypical autism and social anxiety – died two days later in Kingston Hospital due to her injuries.

The Richmond Psychosocial Foundation International (RPFI), the charity which ran the facility, was fined £40,000 over a failure to provide safe care and treatment under the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

Peggy Jhugroo (pictured), 57, who was employed by RPFI as a co-ordinator and was the registered manager of the care home, has also been handed a £3,000 fine.

Sentencing at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court on Friday afternoon, District Judge Deborah Wright said: “The RPFI fell far short of the appropriate standard in that it failed to heed warnings and concerns raised by employees.

“They recruited inexperienced staff, failed to ensure proper training was given to newly appointed staff and failed to recognise the needs of Sophie.”

Ms Wright went on to say there was a “serious and systemic failure within the organisation to recognise the risk to health and safety”, meaning its culpability level was “high”.

She continued: “Her (Sophie’s) vulnerability was self-evident…anyone reading her logs should have been aware the risks were significant.

“The risk to her was in all circumstances a high likelihood of death.”

Ms Wright said that Jhugroo “willingly did the RPFI’s bidding” and was “wilfully blind to the risk of offending” despite Ms Bennett’s vulnerability.

She added: “The fine I give must take into account the seriousness of the offence.”

The home had seen a number of staff changes after Jhugroo and interim manager Duncan Lawrence took over, following the resignation of previous boss Vincent Hill over fears of cuts to therapy.

Mr Hill had more than 25 years of experience and had overseen the facility receiving “good” ratings by regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

However, after Jhugroo took over, a number of “inexperienced” staff were appointed and given “inadequate” training, the court heard.

Craig Rush, prosecuting, told the court that under Jhugroo no attempts were made to form relationships between management and the residents, which had an “effect” on the wellbeing of Ms Bennett.

Mr Rush said Jhugroo and the RPFI had been “cost-cutting at the expense of safety” with the underlying motive behind removal of staff and therapy being “increased profitability”.

Ms Bennett had said the changes made her feel like being in a “boot camp”, which had an “adverse impact on her wellbeing”, Mr Rush told the court.

On April 28, 2016, two care workers found a number of objects in Ms Bennett’s room “that she could have used to self harm”.

They also noticed “a burn-like mark” on the back of her neck, which “should have given rise to very genuine, very serious concerns about the risks of her harming herself”, the court heard.

However, the level of risk of Ms Bennett harming herself was only put to three out of 10 following the discovery, as staff were “not qualified and untrained”.

Mr Rush added: “There’s no one individual thing, it’s a combination of factors, here the combination of factors cumulatively is the removal of experienced staff, replaced with inexperienced staff.

“The inexperienced staff then don’t receive adequate training, thereby they’re not in a position to provide proper risk assessment.

“The risk assessment was then not followed”.

Shortly before her death, the CQC criticised the facility as “inadequate” in a number of areas.

Mr Rush went on to say the RPFI “fell far short of the appropriate standard” because it “ignored concerns raised by several employees regarding the risk proposed about the residents”.

Paul Spencer, representing the RPFI, said: “There have been very significant, long-lasting lesson learning from the very tragic death of Sophie Bennett.”

He accepted that staff were recruited without “an appropriate skillset”, but denied that such steps were “knowingly taken”.

The RPFI, which no longer oversees the care facility, accepted its high culpability in the incident, the court heard.

The court also heard that Jhugroo was the “wrong person for the job” due to her background as a youth worker.

Alexander Dos Santos, defending, said: “As her role progressed over time, she recognised that her skillset and background was not suitable for the role that she had, and she accepts responsibility for carrying on that post when it became apparent there was more required.”

Jhugroo remained in her position until 2017.

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