His mum, Lisa, is one of many Essex families fighting for justice by campaigning for a statutory public inquiry
Ben Morris “was going mad” and “wanted out” of Chelmsford’s Linden Centre just minutes before he was found hanged in his room, his mum claims.
The 20-year-old, who had ADHD, was admitted to the mental health unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford on December 8, 2008, but tragically lost his life just 20 days later.
According to his mum, Lisa Morris, Ben had called her just 30 minutes before he was found dead in his room saying that he wanted to leave the centre.
The inquest into his death concluded the father-of-one hanged himself, but Lisa claims she still doesn’t know the full truth about how her son died. She has been living a “terrible nightmare” for the past 12 years.
The hearing also determined that Ben had died “before his illness was fully diagnosed to ensure a suitable care programme to be implemented to manage his condition”.
These were factors that “more than minimally” contributed to his death.
Lisa is now one of many Essex families fighting for a statutory public inquiry into the county’s mental health services in search of justice for their loved ones, and accountability for those who they claim failed to keep their relatives safe.
The fight for a public inquiry
In November 2012, Melanie Leahy’s son Matthew was found hanged at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford just a week after being admitted under the Mental Health Act.
She has been pushing for a statutory public inquiry, through which witnesses can be made to give evidence under oath, into the county’s mental health services ever since.
According to Melanie, it’s the only way the affected families will achieve justice for their loved ones.
There are now around 20 Essex families supporting the fight for an inquiry, all of whom have lost a relative during or after being under the care of a mental health service, but the number is growing.
The group has now secured the support of Hodge, Jones & Allen Solicitors who have agreed to work on a pro bono basis to try to secure a public inquiry.
Nina Ali, Partner at HJA, said: “HJA is intent on helping these families secure the justice that they deserve.
“It is essential to get to the truth of what happened – all those families whose loved ones died whilst they were under the care of Essex mental health services are owed answers for their loss.
“A public inquiry is needed to ensure that a comprehensive and in-depth investigation is carried out and those responsible are held to account. It is only then, that things can and will begin to change for the better.
“We urge all affected families and individuals to get in touch with HJA. The call for a public inquiry is to include everyone affected by the failings of Essex mental health services: families of children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly who have died and individuals who have been through ‘the system’ and suffered but survived.”
Priya Singh, Associate at HJA, claims: “It is not only families of the bereaved who are coming forward but also ex-patients from whom we’ve heard shocking reports of abuse suffered by the victims whilst in care. These stories are harrowing.
“Vulnerable people have entered what are meant to be centres of trust and safety – a number voluntarily submitted themselves for help – only to be abused and exploited by some professionals who should protect them.
“They come in with mental health issues and leave – if they leave – in a much worse off state than before.
“No family, no individual should ever have to go through that. These families have been failed by the organisations that are set up to treat and care for patients.”
Waiting a lifetime for a diagnosis
Described as a “fun and adorable” child growing up, Ben was always very energetic, especially compared to Lisa’s two other children.
She explained that doctors classed him as “over-energetic” as a young boy, but it wasn’t until he turned 20 when Ben was finally diagnosed with ADHD by a psychiatrist at St Peter’s Hospital in Maldon, Essex.
“I was in tears and Ben was nearly in tears,” Lisa said. “We’d finally got a diagnosis and perhaps medication could start and perhaps it would calm him down a bit.
“He was really impulsive and unfortunately he’d been in trouble with police because of it.”
Ben’s psychiatrist also feared the 20-year-old was suffering from a form of epilepsy, but it wasn’t until after Ben’s death that Lisa learnt a scan had been scheduled for the month after he died.
The police soon became involved following a couple of incidents involving Ben, and after ending up at Chelmsford Police Station on December 7, 2008, he was admitted to the Linden Centre in the early hours of the following day.
He was found hanged just three weeks later.
“It was awful”
During Ben’s time on the Galleywood Ward, Lisa had contact with him nearly every day.
“It was awful,” she explained. “The morning when he woke up there he was really particular about his appearance, he wanted to shave and shower and they refused to let him have a razor.
“He rang me stressed out, he loved his clothes and he loved to look clean and fresh.
“I rang the ward and asked if they could help because he’s a bit distressed and he then called me back and said staff had gone straight to him and said ‘spoke to mummy because you couldn’t have a shave?'”
According to Lisa, Ben was regularly restrained by staff members, and he wasn’t eating as he continued to struggle with being on the ward.
On December 18, ten days after Ben was admitted to the Linden Centre, Lisa met him and his friend in Chelmsford city centre.
They bought Ben some new clothes, and Lisa agreed to drop the clothes back at the centre while Ben and his friend stayed out.
But when Lisa arrived, she claims staff had no idea where Ben was and spent “half an hour” looking for him without asking Lisa if she knew.
“I buzzed to get into the hospital and they didn’t even let me say what I was there for,” she said. “They went off looking for him.
“Half an hour later they said they couldn’t find him. Why don’t you know where he is?
“I’m not saying Ben would have hurt anyone but these drugs he was on are really scary. If anything happened, no one even knew where he was.”
“How could he hang himself? He’s in hospital?”
Lisa says she spoke to Ben on the phone just half an hour before he was found on December 28, but claims she wasn’t made aware of his death until the next day.
“I spoke to him at 8.30pm and he wanted out, he was going mad,” Lisa said. “The ward said they heard the conversation and they were looking after him.
“They found him at 9pm, considering they were meant to be looking after him.
“I rang the hospital on the morning of December 29 to find out what had happened the night before and I was told to call the police. I called them and they didn’t know what I was on about.
“I rang the hospital back and they said they couldn’t tell me anything. His mobile was switched off, the night before he wanted to discharge himself.
“I then phoned police custody to see if he’d been arrested, and then rang the hospital back again. Unbeknown to me the hospital had now rung the police.”
Lisa then rang the police again, only this time they asked for her address.
Around 20 minutes later, two police officers arrived to confirm the devastating news.
She added: “I picked myself up and got straight on the phone to the person leading the investigation at the police. How can he hang himself? He’s in hospital?”
Following Ben’s death, an internal inquiry was launched by the North Essex Partnership NHS Trust, which has since merged to form the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.
A spokesperson for EPUT said: “Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) extends its deepest condolences to Ben’s family.
“Ben died whilst in the care of the former North Essex Partnership NHS Trust, and since EPUT was established in 2017 our top priority has been to continuously improve patient safety.
“We have an ongoing programme of improvements so that we can provide the best possible care for our patients.
“We continue to support ongoing investigations into the care of patients under the former North Essex Partnership Trust.”
The Trust has invested a total of £2.4m into safety improvements to date.
“Let’s really see what’s gone wrong and force the change”
Lisa wants justice for her son, and for other families who have lost a loved one under similar circumstances.
But 12 years of demanding answers and seeking the truth into Ben’s death has taken its toll on Lisa.
“I’m done with anger because it made me too ill,” she said. “I had to train my brain not to think that anymore.
“I’m just trying so hopefully one day we can get the truth and hopefully stop this happening ever again.
“They can’t keep saying these staff have made mistakes, that’s the word they use for these, ‘mistakes’.
“You go to bed one night and you have this terrible nightmare that you can never imagine, and you wake up and you’re still in it, you just cannot get out.
“For two years I stopped completely, I was even going to burn all the paperwork it made me that ill.
“It haunted me, so I can’t stop but I hate going on as well, you’re just in this nightmare you can’t get out of.”
And together, the families won’t stop pushing for an inquiry until they get one.
Lisa said: “We’re not just grieving mums who can’t accept their kids have taken their own lives.
“I think 12 years down the line after Ben’s death and after all their internal inquiries, that’s changed nothing.
“Let’s have a proper fresh-eyed investigation on all these deaths. Let’s really see what’s gone wrong and force the change.
“We’ve got one shot at this.”
Credit : Elliot Hawkins