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Norfolk fitness enthusiast suffered fatal injuries at mental health unit

PUBLISHED: 17:41 07 December 2015 | UPDATED: 08:05 08 December 2015

Christopher Higgins

Christopher Higgins

Archant

A mother told an inquest how it “seemed impossible” to get anybody to help her son before he leapt to his death at a mental health unit.

Christopher Higgins, 36, was an aspiring personal trainer who worked for pharmaceutical firm Bespak in King’s Lynn.

In the months before his death he had started to experience mental health issues for the first time.

His mother Ann Higgins said that her son tried to seek help but was not taken seriously, and that she had the same response when she tried to call services on his behalf.

By the time he was voluntarily admitted to a mental health unit his condition had deteriorated, and he thought he was the devil and that he was being stalked.

Mr Higgins wanted to be treated in Norwich as he did not want people in King’s Lynn to find out about his condition, but he went into the Fermoy Unit, which is a mental health unit on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King’s Lynn, in June 2013.

Mrs Higgins told yesterday’s hearing that staff did not tell her that her son had self-harmed.

He was moved from the unit to the hospital, but was moved back under police escort after he began to stab himself with scissors.

When back at the Fermoy Unit he was allowed out for a cigarette, and “dived” over the railings of a disabled ramp. He suffered a fractured skull and died days later at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, on July 2, 2013.

Mr Higgins had lived with his parents and twin brother in Grimston Road, South Wootton.

His mother said: “I don’t know why I couldn’t get any help.

“I said ‘help is coming’ and he said ‘there’s no help out there’.

“It seemed that there was no way of getting help until you’re totally desperate then the police are involved.”

She added that it “seemed impossible to get someone to intervene” and that she felt “utterly desperate and did not know which way to turn”.

The jury inquest in Norwich is expected to last 10 days.

Christopher Higgins had a wide circle of friends and a full-time job with a good wage, his mother Ann said.

Giving evidence she struggled to hold back tears and took the unusual step of circulating a framed photo of her son among jurors.

She claimed that her son was unhappy working at Bespak in King’s Lynn and took time off as a result.

He was 6ft 4ins tall and wanted to become a personal trainer.

She initially assumed that he began to see his friends less due to problems at work, but said that by April 2013 his paranoia was evident.

With her encouragement, Mr Higgins went to see a doctor.

At a first appointment he was handed a leaflet and an increased prescription of anti-depressants.

Mrs Higgins said that while a second appointment was more positive she had to fight for him to get a mental health assessment.

“Despite my many phone calls it seemed impossible to get someone to intervene.”

She said her son joined her and her husband Jon on a family holiday to Croatia.

But while there Mr Higgins became increasingly paranoid, and thought his restaurant meal had been poisoned on the orders of someone who had been following his movements.

Mrs Higgins cut the holiday short and returned home with her son.

She tried to raise concerns with mental health services for more than a month, calling three or four times in a single day.

“When a close relative of a patient does this, alarm bells should be ringing,” she said.

Describing a separate call to an out-of-hours number, she said: “Because he was not bleeding or unable to breathe they said a doctor could not come out.”

She even asked her daughter, a psychologist who lives in London, to try to help her to access services for Mr Higgins.

While Mr Higgins could appear rational to strangers, his condition was worsening.

Police attended the family home when Mr Higgins was holding a saw, and he went voluntarily with officers to the Fermoy Unit.

Mrs Higgins said her son had the saw as he was convinced that someone had put something incriminating in his car tyre and he wanted to get it out.

In the final part of her statement, read by the coroner as Mrs Higgins was too upset, she described receiving a call at 3.15am telling her that her son had “had an accident” and for them to go to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to find out more.

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