Catalogue of local authority failings contributed to death of teenager, coroner finds

A catalogue of failings by a local authority contributed to the death of a vulnerable teenager, a coroner has found.

Jade Hutchings (pictured), 18, attempted to take his own life at his home in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, on May 21, 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown.

He was taken to hospital, where it was found he had suffered a severe brain injury and, despite treatment, would not survive. He died two days later on May 23.

At the conclusion of an inquest into Mr Hutchings’ death at County Hall in Horsham, West Sussex, on Wednesday, senior coroner Penelope Schofield issued a narrative finding.

She stated West Sussex County Council agencies committed failings which contributed to Mr Hutchings’ death.

Mrs Schofield found that the local authority, which runs child and adult support services, “failed to assess Jade’s needs in a ‘child in need’ review before he reached 18 and the premature closure of his case constitutes a failing”.

She added: “There was also a failure to refer him to a transition panel, so this collectively is a gross failure.”

Mrs Schofield concluded: “Jade was vulnerable and struggling with his mental health. He had been using alcohol and drugs to mask underlying issues, and he had been finding it difficult to engage with services in order to address this.

“There were missed opportunities by a number of services to proactively engage with Jade to ensure he was being encouraged to address his dependency on alcohol and drugs, and notably a missed opportunity to carry out a child in need review when Jade was approaching 18 which did not occur due to his case with social services being closed prematurely.

“Jade’s death was contributed to by neglect.”

A Prevention of Future Deaths report relating to the county council recommending improvements to the service has been postponed by the coroner for six months, awaiting further evidence of any changes from the council.

Solicitors representing Mr Hutchings’ family had claimed there were “multiple” missed opportunities for both adult and child social services, the NHS and Sussex Police to intervene.

However the coroner found there had not been failings by Mr Hutchings’ GP, the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust or by Sussex Police which contributed to Mr Hutchings’ death.

Nonetheless, a report will be issued to Sussex Police calling for more mental health training for officers.

Speaking after the inquest, Jade’s mother Beatrice Hutchings said: “Jade was my beautiful son. He was loved by all his family; his sister, dad and me. Jade had a bright future ahead of him, with so much to look forward to.

“I honestly believe that all the time that Jade was in contact with the NHS and social services, he was not given the help he needed to address his mental health issues. He was not allowed to be a vulnerable young person. Instead he was viewed as a troublesome black male with addiction issues, who needed to take responsibility for himself.

“What this inquest has shown is that the systems in Sussex are not fit for the purpose of protecting vulnerable young lives. There are gaps in social services for children with identified needs, who are then unable to get help from adult social services.

“There are issues with communication between doctors, patients and other services, and, in the case of the police, there is clearly a lack of training around mental health issues and a failure to cascade safeguarding issues to frontline officers.

“I feel affirmed by the coroner’s finding that Jade’s death was contributed to by neglect. I am glad the coroner has shone a light on where there was a lack of support for my Jade and where changes can be made by the services involved. Hopefully this will prevent another family from suffering this type of loss in deeply tragic circumstances.”

Detective Superintendent Andy Bennett, of Sussex Police, said: “Our thoughts remain very much with the family of Jade Hutchings at this difficult time.

“We have fully supported the coronial process and are grateful for the time taken by His Majesty’s Senior Coroner to scrutinise the circumstances surrounding Jade’s death.

“We accept HMC’s conclusion. Our deepest sympathies go to Jade’s family.”

West Sussex County Council’s director of children, young people and learning services Lucy Butler and director of adults’ services and health Alan Sinclair released a joint statement which said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Jade’s family, friends and all affected by his death.

“We acknowledge the findings of the inquest and the coroner’s conclusions, and we apologise for the level of service provided to Jade.

“West Sussex County Council is focused on continuously improving outcomes for children, young adults and their families, putting their safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything we do.

“We are committed to learning from Jade’s case and have already made, and will continue to make, changes to ensure young people in similar vulnerable situations receive the relevant level of support and services according to their needs.

“As is the situation across the country, the need for children and young people’s mental health services locally has increased significantly.

“Together with our partners, West Sussex County Council is committed to developing mental health and suicide support services for young people, and everyone else in our communities.”

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust declined to comment.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Beatrice Hutchings Alumaiya / Go Fund Me.