Family praise staff at Little Plumstead Hospital after death of autistic man found hanged is deemed “misadventure”

Norfolk Coroner's Court in Norwich. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norfolk Coroner's Court in Norwich. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

The family of an autistic man found dead in his hospital room have praised the staff who gave him 'excellent care'.

Philip Sewell was 24 and had been detained under the Mental Health Act in Little Plumstead Hospital for almost five years when he was discovered hanged on April 14 last year.

The inquest into his death has heard how he had been 'extremely positive' about his pending release, having moved onto a rehab ward with the potential of returning to the community in the winter.

Area coroner Yvonne Blake, summing up the evidence this morning, said Mr Sewell had been a 'shy, polite and very likeable young man.'

He had been detained following an incident in 2011, and was transferred from HMP Norwich to Little Plumstead in September of that year.

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'Being intensely private and easily embarrassed, being unable to express his emotions, he also suffered a form of autism and had mild learning difficulties,' said Ms Blake.

'Philip had a history of deliberate self harm. He tended to punch walls when frustrated but had never expressed ideas about suicide an all of the four and a half years of his stay.'

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Giving evidence, consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Daniel Dalton had told the court he was 'profoundly shocked' at Mr Sewell's death.

'I would not put it beyond the realms of possibility this was an experiment gone wrong,' he said. 'Philip was a very shy man who felt very uncomfortable talking about some things very personal to him. They were very important in understanding the offence.

'He was naive from a sexual point of view. He found his sexual thoughts and wishes extremely troubling.' 'It is impossible to take away every possibility someone could use to harm themselves or others. In Philip's case he was doing tremendously well and there were no signs he might be doing anything accidentally dangerous. With hindsight I can't say how much I regret the fact he had the things he needed to harm himself.'

Staff had been exploring Mr Sewell's sexual preferences with him to help him understand the incident in 2011. 'Like any other young man, he found the prospect of telling his family about this extremely difficult and embarrassing,' said Ms Blake. 'All the staff and his family felt that he had made good progress and was looking forward to his future.'

The inquest also heard from a health care assistant who had been checking on Mr Sewell twice an hour that night. The practice had been to listen in to check for breathing, to avoid being obtrusive to patients. That practice has now been changed.

The jury took less than two hours to return a conclusion of misadventure.

After the inquest Mr Sewell's brother, Paul Sewell, said he had received the very best care.

'Everyone at Little Plumstead were great and it was excellent care,' he said. 'This was nothing to do with their care, and we can't thank the staff enough for what they did for him and the family. They have been really supportive all the way through, right up until today.'

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