A clinician faces jail for failing to cooperate with an inquest into the death of a teenager with mental health issues, in what could be 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. Duncan Lawrence, her “clinical lead”, failed to attend and disclose evidence to the hearing.
He admitted failing to give evidence at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court.
He said he was “100% guilty” and could face 51 weeks in prison.
Ms Bennett’s death followed an overhaul of her treatment, including the cancellation of all external therapies, and the loss of key staff.
She had been cared for at Lancaster Lodge since April 2015 due to complex needs involving bipolar affective disorder, social anxiety disorder 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.
Lawrence, who had a non-medical doctorate possibly bought from Knightsbridge University in Denmark, oversaw Ms Bennett’s treatment in her final months like “a dictatorship”, the inquest heard.
Lawrence failed to attend the hearing, instead providing written statements to the coroner.
Prosecutor Charles Shelton said his actions meant Sophie’s family had not received justice over their daughter’s death.
Lawrence, who was not represented, told the court he had “extenuating circumstances” of caring for both parents, who later died.
Magistrate John Soones said: “You were expected to give evidence at a coroner’s court into Sophie Bennett’s death… irrespective of your personal problems, you failed to do so.”
Speaking outside the court, Ms Bennett’s father Ben said: “We just want the full truth. We feel his excuses have been lame and he has disrespected us extremely.”I wouldn’t have pleasure in seeing him go to prison. Our main concern is that he is still a member of the [British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy] and potentially giving ‘care’ to others.”
The charity Inquest, which is working with Ms Bennett’s family, believes the “unprecedented case” is the first time someone has faced criminal charges for failing to provide evidence to a coroner.
Mr Lawrence will be sentenced on 27 August.