Islington NHS ‘missed golden opportunity’ to prevent young mum’s helium death, inquest hears
- Credit: Supplied by family
A coroner has been asked to rule on whether Islington NHS services missed vital opportunities to save a vulnerable Archway woman’s life – and whether a disturbing assisted suicide DVD found in her flat broke the law. EMMA YOULE reports from St Pancras Coroner’s Court.
The family of a “bright and intelligent” young woman who took her own life are fighting to find answers about her tragic death.
The body of Demi Williams was found in her council flat in Archway on March 15 this year after she had become estranged from her family.
The 22-year-old, who had been a “happy go lucky teenager”, inhaled helium gas while sitting on a chair among the messy chaos of her living room.
But a self-help film about assisted suicide was found in the DVD player in her flat – and her family believes someone else may have been present when she died.
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At an inquest last week they were told Demi had been sectioned on January 10 this year after attending A&E at the Whittington Hospital showing symptoms of psychosis.
Three days later Demi told Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust staff she had bought helium, although it had not arrived, and thought about using it to kill herself, the coroner heard.
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Demi’s medical notes showed no record of helium being discussed again, although trust staff said they had explored the risk of suicide and carried out risk assessments.
Her family’s legal team said there had been “an institutional loss of memory” about the risk posed.
Barrister Chris Williams said: “Taking away the means [of ending her life] by taking away the helium canister was a golden missed opportunity and I submit that’s something on the balance of probabilities that would have prevented her death.”
Former Highbury Grove School pupil Demi had experienced mental health problems since giving up her young son for adoption in 2012, the court heard.
Demi’s aunt Jasmyn Ross, 39, told the coroner her niece had a stable upbringing with her paternal family after running away from her mother aged 12, and the family were close until Demi fell pregnant.
Ms Ross, who lives in Harringay, said Demi became socially isolated and estranged after giving up her son and they were not in regular contact when she was sectioned in January.
Consultant psychiatrist at the trust Dr Jonathan Ornstein told the court Demi was diagnosed with psychosis and depression but made good progress once she was prescribed anti-psychotic drugs and admitted to Highgate Mental Health Centre.
Demi was moved to Drayton Park Crisis House and on March 2 was released home. The coroner heard she was uncomfortable about returning to her council flat in Oakdale Court, Fortnum Road. But the trust was supporting her to improve her housing situation.
Her aunt said the flat, which had no curtains or carpet, was “quite a mess” and “probably not somewhere I would even have my dog live”.
Demi was last seen on March 3 by care coordinator Laura Robertson before she went on holiday.
The coroner heard evidence from Ms Robertson and Dr Ornstein that they had asked Demi if she had specific plans to end her life.
Dr Ornstein said: “What she told us was she had thought about helium or ordering helium but she never told us that it had arrived. We were not aware there was helium at her flat.”
But the family’s barrister argued specific questions about the helium canisters should have been asked during a home visit on February 17.
The care team tried to call Demi from March 7 and requested a police welfare check on March 15. Her body was found by paramedics that day.
Her last known text message was to a friend on March 4. It said “Not feeling like talking at the moment :-(”.
Her aunt told the coroner: “Now being able to read all the reports and see what she was going through is difficult for us as a family, because we’re a supportive family and it could have been a very different story, a very different outcome, if we’d known what was happening to her.”
She continued: “Demi played quite a key role in my life. She loved to act, she was a very happy go lucky lady, so to come to this point in her life, to be described when they found her as a solitary young lady, it’s not the person that we knew and lived with for many years.”
The inquest resumes on Friday.
ASSISTED SUICIDE DVD: WAS SOMEONE ELSE WITH DEMI WHEN SHE DIED?
The family’s barrister has asked the coroner to consider whether supply of a disturbing “self-help” DVD on assisted suicide, found in Demi William’s flat, may have been illegal.
The DVD – described as “seductive” and a “propaganda exercise for suicide” – was in the DVD player when the 22-year-old’s body was discovered on March 15.
Her aunt Ms Ross said it left her “very concerned” someone else may have been present when her niece died.
She said: “I don’t think she was confident enough to do this on her own.”
Men’s toiletries were also in Demi’s bathroom although she apparently lived alone, her aunt said.
Sgt Adam Instone, who investigated the death, told the coroner: “I made a comment at the time: ‘It’s almost like a perfect suicide. Everything was laid out for us.’”
But he said there was no evidence of third party involvement.
The family’s barrister Mr Williams said it was “an appalling tragedy that somebody could be drawn in” by the DVD.
Her aunt said: “It shocks me that something like that would be able to be released for anyone, and for someone suffering from a mental illness to be able to access something like that, it’s ludicrous.”
* Confidential emotional advice is available from the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 116 123