I do not have an extensive biography for Robert as I was unable to connect with his family and speak to them before his inquest. It’s for that reason that I did not live tweet Robert’s inquest, instead sharing twitter threads daily at the conclusion of the day’s hearing.
Robert’s mum, Pamela, gave a statement to the court and in it she told the court that she married Robert’s father Douglas and they had four children together, Robert was the youngest, born on 1 July 1970 in Mansfield.
She described how at the time of his death he was known as Rob, Bob and Chappo. He was unemployed, had never been married, had no current partner and had no children.
Robert was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and a learning disability. He had reading and writing difficulties, and trouble understanding big words.
Mrs Chaplin described that they had regular contact through telephone calls and visits on a daily basis. She said apart from his mental health, Robert’s health was generally very good.
She knew something was wrong from an early age as Robert wouldn’t play with other children, liked being by himself and didn’t like others playing with his toys. He went to Ironville Nursery School and up to primary school, before being placed in a special unit at a school with special facilities for persons with a learning disability.
Mrs Chaplin explained how she’d wanted Robert to go to a special school but the headmaster wouldn’t send him to one, so instead he moved to the local comprehensive school when he was 12. He had difficulties there, and after only a few weeks at school he ran away. The Education Authority agreed for him to goto a special school where he stayed until he left, aged 16, without any qualifications. She described how he couldn’t read or write very well and had difficulty understanding things. Robert stayed living at home.
Following a family bereavement, Robert started misusing alcohol and drinking heavily. He had a breakdown, was sectioned and admitted to hospital when he was 24. He was treated there for a year and diagnosed with schizophrenia.
When he left hospital Robert wanted to live independently. Mrs Chaplin outlined his numerous attempts to do so, returning home to live with his parents whenever a placement was unsuccessful.
He lived in warden supported accommodation, The Grove, successfully for ten years from 2008 to 2018. Robert was able to goto the day centre next door, he attended appointments with mental health professionals and his psychiatrist, and went on holidays.
In 2018 funding was reduced to the point where the warden at the Grove was removed. After that Robert moved to another privately rented flat for a year, before moving to the Morewood Centre in July 2019, as he was struggling to cope in his flat.
Mrs Chaplin recalled that her and her husband had contact with Robert every day, in person, or on the phone. She described Robert as a bit of a fibber, or romancer, saying he’d exaggerate things such as how many pints he’d had or how much money he had. He was a collector, or hoarder, depending on your perspective, latterly collecting walking sticks. He liked to drink, smoked a pipe and on occasion snuff. She said although Robert could shout and swear a lot, she’d never seen him be aggressive towards anyone other than herself, and an incident as a very young man.
She described how two weeks before Robert’s death there was an incident at the family home where she had to call the police as Robert was walking up and down their drive swearing. He’d shouted at the community mental health nurse, and swore at her and she advised Mrs Chaplin to call the police as Robert clearly needed help. She said that when he wasn’t shouting and swearing he’d cry and ask for help.
She was hoping that the Radbourne Unit would section Robert so he could get help and treatment, but she had a call later that night from the Morewood Centre to say that Robert had been released and had caught the bus back to the centre.
Mrs Chaplin and her husband last saw Robert on the day he died, spending a couple hours with him at the Morewood Centre. She described how he “wasn’t good, not his usual chatty self”. She commented that was how Robert was, up one day and down the next.
At 21:30 the night he died Robert called his mum for a chat. Mrs Chaplin was about to goto bed and they didn’t talk for long but she could tell he’d had a drink. She said to him he should goto bed, and he’d sometimes respond that he wasn’t a child and he was nearly 50.
Mrs Chaplin was worried that the lad that punched Robert would go to prison, and she didn’t think he should have been at the Morewood Centre. She also believed that Robert should have been sectioned a fortnight before his death, and if he had been then he wouldn’t have been at the Morewood Centre and he wouldn’t have died.
The coroner found:
Robert died due to an unsurvivable hypoxic brain injury following prolonged cardiac arrest caused by being punched. His pre-existing cardiac disease was contributory to the cardiac arrest. Both Robert and the man who punched him were staying at a learning disability residential facility, both had complex needs and challenging behaviour, and Robert was intoxicated with alcohol to some degree at the time of the incident.
The coroner reminded the court that he’d made an anonymity order relating to the person who punched Robert, who was known throughout the inquest as Witness A. This order was made due to Witness A’s mental health, safety and wellbeing, principally due to issues of self-harm and the fact that he would otherwise be at serious risk. The order was not opposed.
The coroner continued that “On the evidence I do not find it is probable any acts or omissions of staff of Derbyshire CC learning disability services, or Derbyshire Healthcare NHSFT have contributed to Robert’s death”
He explained that he had reached that conclusion because on the evidence he heard. Robert “had by necessity to be placed at Morewood” and that the “risk of death due to altercation between Robert and Witness A can not reasonably have been foreseen”.
Robert died at Queens Medical Centre Hospital in Nottingham on the afternoon of 24 January 2020 following diagnosis of an unsurvivable hypoxic brain injury.
Coroner explained Robert had been punched by fellow resident at Morewood. Robert then went into cardiac arrest, that in turn caused the hypoxic brain injury “Robert was aged 49 at the time of his death and clearly a great loss for his family and those who knew him well”.
Coroner explained Robert had a learning disability, bipolar disorder, autistic spectrum disorder and some physical health problems including diabetes and scoliosis. He also had issues with alcohol use.
His behaviour could be challenging, including being verbally aggressive. He had support from mental health services and adult social care learning disability services.
Coroner explained due to his previous hospital admissions, including compulsory admission due to his mental ill-health, Robert was entitled to after care funding under section 117.
Coroner outlined how Robert came to be at Morewood, following his tenancy breaking down after he could no longer be supported, due to only one PA being available.
Morewood was described as a Derbyshire CC residential facility for people with learning disabilities, offering respite and short term placements. The coroner highlighted the evidence given about changing resident profile since 2017, 2018.
“Change in needs of the service users referred, from people with primary learning disability needs, to people with learning disability and additional needs, in particular mental health issues and substance misuse… at the inquest staff from Derbyshire CC and Derbyshire Healthcare NHST expressed views that this change reflected difficulty in sourcing placements for learning disability service users with complex and multiple problems, increased demand for services, and funding pressures. These placement issues were stated to be national issues. While changing service user profile presented challenges to Morewood staff, it was stated staff were adequately trained”
Coroner then outlined the background on Witness A.
Coroner then detailed what happened on 9 January and that Robert was detained under S136 of the Mental Health Act by police, who took him to the Radbourne Unit for assessment. Assessors included Robert’s previous psychiatrist, Dr Horton. Robert was not assessed to require compulsory admission and did not wish to be admitted. Robert returned to Morewood that day.
Coroner said in his plan Dr Horton requested that Robert be referred onto the intensive support team.
“It does not appear that request was conveyed to the intensive support team. Under agreed arrangements potential hospital admission should trigger a LAEP, local area emergency protocol, to consider alternatives to admission.
This did not happen, but in any event Robert was not admitted to hospital, although there was then a requirement for an urgent multi-agency meeting to review Robert’s support and treatment arrangements”.
This did not take place before his death.
Coroner said there were three issues considered at Robert’s inquest:
In regards to 1) suitability of Morewood for service users with complex needs.
“Inquest heard facility was able to accommodate people with learning disabilities and additional needs, including challenging behaviours, although clearly putting people together with such needs will create volatility at times”.
The coroner went on to say that this was clearly the case when Robert and Witness A were at Morewood and that there had been such incidents prior to Robert being assaulted.
“Ideally people would have tailored placement, ideally Supported Living placements, but the inquest heard that for reasons stated to apply nationally, there are a shortage of such placements.
In this context there was clearly no option but for Robert and Witness A to be placed at Morewood, given situations at time of placement. Along with other service users with similar problems, while longer term options were sought.
All in all whilst not ideal for people with complex needs, from evidence presented to inquest, do not see situation different to general picture nationally regarding placement availability and shortages.
In relation to the national issue, it is complex issue and beyond the scope of this inquest, depends on national policy and funding issues… this inquest is not the forum for a forensic inquiry.
Imagine difficulties in sourcing learning disability placements and resources, probably a subset of wider picture for social care and mental health provision generally.
If it had been clearly established on the evidence that Morewood was totally unsuitable for either Robert or Witness A, would say there would be need to look at that in more detail, although evidence was it was not.
Although not ideal, the placement was not inappropriate for either of the men”.
Coroner then discussed Robert being given £30 to take to the pub.
“Robert could not be denied that money. Seems sensible to me, would be that member of staff have a conversation with Robert about that [whether take less]… also given clashes occurred earlier in day… also in hindsight seems to me Robert’s degree of intoxication must have had some relevance to the altercation between Robert and Witness A. Whether Robert would have accepted that advice can not be known”.
Point 2) were Robert and Witness A receiving appropriate services beyond Morewood, if not did this contribute to Robert’s death?
The Coroner outlined both men were receiving learning disability and social care social work input. Both men had frequent contact with professionals.
“Where there were gaps, further input was sought, although referrals were not always accepted”
In relation to joint working and care planning
“Was close cross disciplinary working but does seem to me further work could be done in this area”
Despite saying that the Coroner went on to say “that doesn’t seem to be issue clearly seen to be relevant to Robert’s death”.
Robert should have had an urgent MDT meeting following the Mental Health Act assessment on 9 January 2020.
“Although this did not happen there’s no evidence there would have been any changes to his provision that would have likely prevented incident on 23 January. Psychiatrist had asked IST to provide input. Although that did not occur, is not clear that would have prevented incident. Robert’s stay was planned to be temporary… significant effort was made by the social worker to source an alternative placement”.
Moving onto Robert being struck the coroner said:
“On evidence had Robert not been punched by Witness A he would not have died on 24 January 2020. There is a direct and causal link between the punch and Robert’s cause of death. As to the immediate circumstances, in my judgement Robert’s consumption of alcohol must have influenced his mood and behaviour”.
Coroner outlined that insults were made by Robert towards Witness A.
“Both men expressed aggressive and violent comments but I don’t see that could be taken to mean either meant deliberate harm to the other, especially given their learning disabilities and autism. While there is evidence Witness A delivered a hard punch… the post mortem did not find injury from the punch itself. No evidence fall contributed to death. Cardiac diseases is contributory, if had not been present then unlikely Robert would have suffered cardiac arrest. For that reason will add in to Robert’s cause of death at 2, cardiac disease. In my judgement there have not been any acts or omissions by health or social care staff that have more than minimally contributed to Robert’s death”.
“The incident would not have occurred if both men had not been placed at Morewood, but for reasons discussed their placements were necessary and there were no available alternatives. Robert’s death was caused by Witness A’s punch and Robert’s pre-existing cardiac disease. I do not consider short form conclusions would properly describe the nature of Robert’s death. I considered accident and unlawful killing. Accident would be deficient and lacking in providing description of nature of Robert’s death. In relation to unlawful killing, unlawful manslaughter, seems to me grounds for that not established, as evidence Witness A was acting in self defence and his understanding of consequences of his actions must be questionable given nature of his problems and issues. So short form conclusion of unlawful killing would not be substantiated. Would be inappropriate. In any case, circumstances set out on the record of inquest do describe the key events in relation to the incident’.
Coroner confirmed Robert’s name and cause of death as: 1a hypoxic brain injury 1b consequences of altercation 2 cardiac disease. How, when, where and in what circumstances Robert came by his death were recorded as:
“Robert died in hospital on the afternoon of 24 January 2020 following diagnosis of an unsurvivable hypoxic brain injury. He had been punched by a fellow resident the previous evening at the learning disability residential facility where they were both staying. Robert went into cardiac arrest and the resultant interruption of circulation and oxygen supply to his brain caused brain injury. The physiological stress of the altercation and assault induced cardiac arrest in the context of Robert’s pre-existing cardiac disease.
Both Robert and the other resident who punched him had learning disability and additional complex needs. Alternative placements were being sought for Robert and at the time of his death he was on the waiting list for another placement. The other resident was staying for one night’s planned respite.
On the day of the incident, 23 January 2020, there had been some volatility amongst the residents at the learning disability residential facility, including Robert and the other resident who later punched him. In the afternoon, Robert asked staff for £30 saying he was going to the pub. When he returned in the evening it was clear he had been drinking alcohol with some negative effect on his mood.
Just after 22:00 Robert was making offensive comments to the other resident and this then developed into an exchange of heated verbal threats. Robert confronted the other resident in close proximity with raised fists, and the other resident then punched Robert on the neck which caused Robert to fall back onto the floor. A member of staff had entered the room and tried to separate them and diffuse the situation. On the account given by the resident to the police, and on the evidence of the member of staff, there is reason to believe that the other resident punched Robert out of fear for his own safety”.