Police force faces awkward questions over teenager’s death


newslatestA police force is struggling to explain why its investigation into the death of a disabled teenager in an NHS unit did not lead to criminal charges, and why it appears to have failed to learn lessons from a notorious abuse scandal.

Connor Sparrowhawk, who had probably had an epileptic seizure, drowned in the bath while in an assessment and treatment unit run by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.

An independent report into Connor’s death on 4 July last year found significant failings in his care, and concluded that staff on the unit had not carried out a proper risk assessment of his epilepsy.

The report, published last month, found that Connor would not have died if he had been appropriately supervised, while there was no documentary evidence in the month before he died that checks had been carried out every 15 minutes while he was in the bath.

Thames Valley Police investigated Connor’s death last year, and closed the inquiry without any charges being brought.

But in the wake of the report by the independent consultancy, Thames Valley Police has now asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) whether its investigation should be reopened.

Connor’s mother, Dr Sara Ryan, said the police officers she had spoken to after Connor died “always felt that they were just feeling their way a bit”, as it was such an “unusual” case to investigate.

She said: “They have been very sensitive with us, but they weren’t going to investigate at all originally. It was only because we insisted that they did.

“I just think they are not sure of the terrain at all and that is part of the problem.”

She added: “There should be a prosecution. It is unfathomable that Connor has died through such neglect and nobody is actually held to account for it.

“It was in an NHS hospital where he was supposed to be cared for, and they have a duty of care. They should be accountable.

“Why shouldn’t he have the same police interest and consideration that any other citizen should have?”

Disability News Service (DNS) has now asked the force why it failed to produce enough evidence to bring charges, such as offences of neglect under the Mental Health Act or Mental Capacity Act.

In the mid-1990s, Thames Valley Police was heavily criticised for failing on at least two occasions to carry out proper investigations into serious allegations of abuse at two residential homes in south Buckinghamshire run by a company called Longcare.

After a council report was leaked to the press, Thames Valley Police was forced to reopen its investigation, and eventually brought three managers at the homes to justice, with charges of ill-treatment and neglect.

Now DNS is questioning whether the force has learned lessons from the Longcare scandal.

Ryan said it was “shocking” that the force appeared to have forgotten the Longcare case.

She said: “You would have thought the force would have learned from that and they would have some knowledge about what to do in a similar type of situation.”

She said she would also like to see corporate manslaughter charges brought against the trust, which would be “a wake-up to all the providers and hospitals”.

A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: “Connor’s death was initially investigated as an unexplained but non-suspicious death. The investigation was closed and paperwork referred to the coroner for the impending inquest.

“As a result of the recent report, police officers have made a submission to the CPS to review whether the investigation needs to be reopened.

“The police officers involved in this case have been in contact with Connor’s family throughout this process.”

So far, the force has failed to answer a series of follow-up questions from DNS.

14 March 2014