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Mother of Norwich man who died of heroin overdose blames ‘institutional failings’ of mental health trust

PUBLISHED: 15:00 13 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:14 13 November 2017

Leo Jacobs was found dead at his Norwich flat in November 2016 from a suspected accidental overdose. His mother Shelia Preston has spoken out about his case. Photo: Submitted

Leo Jacobs was found dead at his Norwich flat in November 2016 from a suspected accidental overdose. His mother Shelia Preston has spoken out about his case. Photo: Submitted

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The family of a man who died of a heroin overdose at his Norwich flat blamed “institutional failings of the mental health trust” for the circumstances surrounding his death.

Leo Jacobs was found dead on November 14, 2016 at his home in William White Place.

Mr Jacobs’ friends told Norfolk’s Coroner’s Court this morning it was here Mr Jacobs was victim to the practice of cuckooing – where drug dealers take over a property.

And his mother Sheila Preston said if “sufficient care and treatment” had been provided by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) drug dealers would not have been able to take advantage of her son.

Senior coroner Jacqueline Lake heard how on the night of his death Mr Jacobs, 39, had been socialising with friends James Thackray, Damien Gorham and Leonard Price, in Mr Price’s flat downstairs.

But also present were a group of unnamed youths Mr Thackray described as a “scary bunch” and were “children as far as [he] could see”.

Mr Thackray said: “I knew the lads had been hassling Leo to use his flat for a thing called cuckooing.

“It’s when a group of drug dealers prey on vulnerable people who are normally taking drugs themselves. They will pressure them to use their flat to use as their station of business.”

Mr Price said Mr Jacobs left at the same time as the young men. But said he was surprised Mr Jacobs had let the young men in.

“He said he would not have them around anymore,” he said.

“I think he got fed up with them being around there so long, not leaving, doing whatever they were doing from the flat.”

Mr Price said he was then awoken by the young men between 1am or 2am, as one of them had left their bag in his flat.

He said they “were laughing their heads off, they said Leo smoked a 20 in one go – a £20 bag in other words – they said he was falling about all over the place. I said, ‘Is he okay?’ and they said, ‘yeah he’s sitting in his chair, he’s fine now’.”

But when Mr Gorham went to check on Mr Jacobs in the morning, he found him dead.

He said: “His front door was open which was strange for him because he would always lock everything up safely.

“I found him sitting in the seat in his living room. He had a crack pipe or something in one hand and a lighter in the other hand.”

He added: “He was the most honest person I have ever met in my life.

“He was a fun guy to be around, he always had something intelligent to say. He was someone you could learn a lot off.”

Mr Thackray said although the cuckooing had not been going on very long at Mr Jacobs’ flat, it was rife in William White Place.

He added: “Leo hated having them around there.”

But Miss Preston said her son, who had suffered with paranoid schizophrenia for 20 years, should not have been allowed to get into that position.

Miss Preston said she was unaware of his drug use as Mr Jacobs had cut contact with his family.

But she said Mr Jacobs kept a diary for 20 years. Miss Preston added: “He wrote in his diary two days before he died he did not want interlopers in his flat.”

Miss Preston said: “As a family we feel strongly that his death was a result of institutional failings of the mental health trust.”

Miss Preston said changes in the community team had meant Mr Jacobs had not seen a mental health professional for months.

She said: “We know now he had no face-to-face visit from mental health professionals for two months prior to his death.”

She also said NSFT had not adequately considered hospitalising her son. And she felt the family had been kept in the dark about the severity of her son’s illness and drug taking.

“Our hands were tied and we were left in ignorance,” she said.

“I hold NSFT responsible for the unchecked decline in his mental health resulting in his death.

“I believe with sufficient care and treatment Leo would be alive today.

“We loved and valued Leo and he deserved a better life than the one he had.”

The inquest continues.

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