Council authorities contributed to the death of Haywards Heath teenager, coroner says

A SERIES of failings by local authority contributed to the death of an at-risk teenager, a coroner has found.

At the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Jade Hutchings at County Hall in Horsham, Chief Medical Examiner Penelope Schofield released a narrative finding on Wednesday.

She said West Sussex County Council authorities had committed negligence that contributed to Mr Hutchings’ death.

The 18-year-old attempted suicide at his home on Haywards Heath on May 21, 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown.

He was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that he had suffered a serious brain injury and would not survive despite treatment. He died two days later on April 23.

County Hall at Horsham. Inset: Jade HutchingsJade Hutchings/Facebook

Ms Schofield noted that the local authority, which runs child and adult support services, “did not assess Jade’s needs in a ‘Child in Need’ review before he was 18 and the early closure of his case constitutes a deficiency” .

“There was also a failure to refer him to a transitional body, so overall this is a gross failure,” she said.

Ms Schofield concluded: “Jade was vulnerable and struggled with his mental health.

“He had used alcohol and drugs to cover up underlying issues and was finding it difficult to contact services to address this.

“A number of services missed opportunities to proactively engage with Jade to ensure he is encouraged to address his alcohol and drug addictions, and in particular a missed opportunity to conduct a screening of a child in need when Jade turned 18 th year of life was approaching, which was not the case due to his case with the early closure of social services.

“Jade’s death was caused by neglect.”

A report on the prevention of future deaths related to the county council, which recommends improvements to the service, has been delayed by six months by the coroner and awaits further evidence of any changes the council may make.

Lawyers representing Mr Hutchings’ family had claimed there were “several” missed opportunities for adult and children’s social services, the NHS and Sussex Police to step in.

However, the coroner found there had no negligence on the part of Mr Hutchings’ GP, the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust or Sussex Police which contributed to Mr Hutchings’ death.

Still, a report is being issued to Sussex Police calling for more mental health training for officers.

After the examination, Jade’s mother, Beatrice Hutchings, said: “Jade was my beautiful son.

“He was loved by his whole 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 throughout the time Jade has been in contact with the NHS and social services, Jade has not received the help he needed to address his mental health issues.

“He couldn’t be a vulnerable young person. Instead, he was seen as a troublesome black man with addiction problems who needed to take responsibility for himself.

“What this investigation has shown is that Sussex’s systems are not designed to protect 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 problems with communication between doctors, patients and other services and in the case of the police there is clearly a lack of training on mental health issues and a failure to escalate protection issues to frontline officers.

“I feel vindicated by the coroner’s finding that Jade’s death was caused by neglect.

“I am glad that the coroner has identified where support for my Jade was lacking and where changes can be made by the services involved.

“Hopefully this will prevent another family from suffering that type of loss in deeply tragic circumstances.”

Detective Superintendent Andy Bennett of Sussex Police said: “Our hearts go out to Jade Hutchings’ family 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 investigate the circumstances of Jade’s death.

“We accept HMC’s conclusion. Our deepest sympathy goes out to Jade’s family.”

West Sussex County Council’s Director of Children, Youth and Learning Services Lucy Butler and Director of Adult Services and Health Alan Sinclair released a joint statement, which read: “We want Jade’s family, friends and everyone affected offer our sincere condolences on his death.

“We note the results of the investigation and the conclusions of the coroner, and we apologize for the service provided to Jade.

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

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

“Like the situation across the country, the need for local mental health services for children and young people 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.”

The Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust declined to comment. Council authorities contributed to the death of Haywards Heath teenager, coroner says

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