Sophie Bennett death: Clinician jailed for not giving evidence

image copyrightINQUEST
image captionSophie Bennett, 19, had been cared for at Lancaster Lodge due to her complex needs

A care home clinician has been jailed for failing to cooperate with an inquest into the death of a mentally ill teenager, in a legal first.

Sophie Bennett, 19, hanged herself at Lancaster Lodge care facility in Richmond, south-west London, in 2016.

An inquest found "neglect" contributed to her death but Duncan Lawrence, her "clinical lead", had failed to attend and disclose evidence to the hearing.

He was jailed for four months at Wimbledon Magistrates' Court.

Ms Bennett's death followed an overhaul of her treatment, including the cancellation of external therapies and the loss of key staff.

She had been at the residential home since April 2015 due to complex needs involving bipolar disorder, social anxiety and atypical autism.

The new regime, described as a "boot camp" by Ms Bennett, contributed to her death, the jury at West London Coroner's Court found in February.

image copyrightStefan Rousseau/PA
image captionDuncan Lawrence did not have a medical doctorate but had a certificate from a Danish distance learning college

Lawrence, who had a non-medical doctorate, oversaw Ms Bennett's treatment in her final months like "a dictatorship" but was no longer working at the care home at the time of her death, the inquest heard.

The 60-year-old from Sydenham, south east London, initially said he could not attend the three-week inquest because he was in the USA caring for his sick mother.

But he failed to appear on video-link amid claims he was actually in London at the time.

Lawrence claimed his no-show was down to "ongoing stress" and instead provided written statements, prompting the coroner to fine him £650.

He was subsequently charged with intentionally withholding evidence from an inquest, the first case of its kind in England and Wales.

In court, Lawrence apologised to the family but said the charge was "nothing to do" with him and was "a big misunderstanding".

Speaking afterwards, Ben Bennett, Sophie's father, said: "It is not about the sentence he's getting, it's that he has never accounted for himself or produced the evidence.

"His apology means nothing, he has had plenty of opportunities to do that. "

The sentencing comes as a separate legal action is brought against the Richmond Psychosocial International Foundation and manager Peggy Jhugroo, who was a senior figure at Lancaster Lodge when Ms Bennett died.

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