Clinician faces prison for failing to give evidence at an inquest

In what is believed to be the first criminal prosecution of its kind, clinician Duncan Lawrence has entered a guilty plea to an offence of failing to provide evidence at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court. He will be sentenced later this month and could receive a custodial sentence.

The charges relate to an inquest into the death of 18 year old Sophie Bennett. She was admitted to Lancaster Lodge, Richmond in April 2015 for treatment of complex mental health needs, but Sophie was later found to have hanged herself at the facility in 2016. An inquest was required to examine the details around her death.

Neglect was found to have contributed to Sophie’s death. Her treatment had recently been changed, affected by cancellation of external therapies and vital staff leave. Prior to her death, Sophie had compared the way the service was being run to a “bootcamp”.

Duncan Lawrence had been Sophie’s clinical lead and failed to attend the inquest to provide evidence despite being ordered to attend by the coroner. Duncan Lawrence instead submitted written evidence and relied on personal circumstances not to attend.

The family feel that they were denied the opportunity to understand the truth about what happened to their daughter. They remain concerned that Duncan Lawrence is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and may continue providing care to other vulnerable patients.

Duncan Lawrence was prosecuted for failing to give evidence at that inquest.  

Points to take away

Whilst prosecutions of this type are likely to be incredibly rare, this case serves as a warning to all inquest witnesses.

NHS staff may feel that providing evidence to coroners as part of the inquest process can be an all too laborious and unwelcome process, but it is one that cannot be ignored and must be approached with care. Whilst giving evidence in court can be a daunting prospect, failing to properly respond to the coroner’s request for information and summons to court is never a wise alternative.

We have a dedicated inquest team available to assist and advise on all aspects of inquest preparation and attendance at court. Please get in touch to see how we can help.

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