Grenfell rescue worker could have been sectioned before suicide, inquest told
A British Red Cross worker honoured for helping Grenfell Tower fire victims could have been removed from a hotel room by police hours before she took her life, an inquest has heard.
Dr Deborah Lamont, 44, had been interrupted by police during an earlier suicide attempt in the room hours before her death, but an officer decided he was powerless to detain her as he deemed she was “living” there.
On Friday, a coroner said that although Dr Lamont’s death could not have been prevented as she was assessed as not being at immediate risk, it was a concern that officers may be wrongly interpreting sectioning powers.
Coroner Graeme Hughes issued a report asking police to consider whether hotel rooms should be classed as homes for occupants, where people are unable to be sectioned, and called Pc Barry Simpson’s interpretation of the Mental Health Act “probably erroneous”.
He told the inquest in Pontypridd: “Pc Simpson’s interpretation and application of section 136, that he didn’t have power to detain Deborah because she was not in a public place, was probably erroneous.
“In my judgment, it could not be said that in booking into a hotel room for one night that she was living in that room, and I find Pc Simpson did have power to detain her that night.”
He added: “The interpretation by Pc Simpson is a concern and it’s a continuing concern because his evidence yesterday is he would still interpret section 136 in the same way.
“He may be right and my findings may be wrong, but I think it must be brought to the attention of police to consider whether a hotel room comes within section 136, and if its determination that it does … guidance can be given to officers accordingly.”
The coroner said the officer’s judgment that Dr Lamont was not in need of immediate care or control was “reasonable” after he took advice from a mental health practitioner and she agreed to engage with mental health services the next day.
The coroner gave a conclusion of suicide, and said he would send a Regulation 28 Prevention of Future Death Report to the College of Policing to consider their future interpretation of a hotel room as a home.
The court heard on Thursday that Dr Lamont, from Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan, struggled with depression and anxiety for decades, which worsened after divorcing her husband of five years in 2006.
The university lecturer was awarded the Henry Dunant Medal, the highest honour the Red Cross gives members, after joining the emergency response team for the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
Red Cross colleague Jim Rees, who was in a short-term relationship with Dr Lamont, told South Wales Central Coroner’s Court he had received a series of worrying text messages from her on the afternoon before her death on March 28 last year.
He called 999, which led to two police officers gaining access to Dr Lamont’s room at the Village Hotel in Cardiff at around 6.15pm.
They saw evidence of an unsuccessful hanging attempt, and were later joined by paramedics and Mr Rees, before Dr Lamont was left alone in the room at around 8pm after it was agreed she was not in immediate need of care or control.
Just before 11pm that evening, Pc Mitch Hughes and another officer were sent to the hotel after staff, who had been asked to check on Dr Lamont, became concerned for her when she failed to answer her door.
The officers forced their way into the room to find Dr Lamont suspended by ligature, and despite attempts to revive her, she was later declared dead.
After the hearing, Dr Lamont’s father Roger told reporters: “She should have been sectioned.”
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