Council failings contributed to death of vulnerable Haywards Heath teenager, inquest finds

A series of failings by West Sussex County Council services contributed to the death of a vulnerable teenager from Haywards Heath, a coroner has found.
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The conclusion of the inquest for Jade Hutchings, 18, was heard before senior coroner Penelope Schofield on Wednesday, September 28, at County Hall North, Horsham.

The inquest heard that Jade, who had been struggling with his mental health, died on May 23, 2020, at Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, after attempting to take his own life on May 21.

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The Record of Inquest said: “He had been using alcohol and drugs to mask underlying issues and he had been finding it difficult to engage with services in order to address this.

Jade Hutchings of Haywards Heath died on May 23, 2020. Picture: Beatrice HutchingsJade Hutchings of Haywards Heath died on May 23, 2020. Picture: Beatrice Hutchings
Jade Hutchings of Haywards Heath died on May 23, 2020. Picture: Beatrice Hutchings

“There were missed opportunities by a number of services to proactively engage with Jade to ensure that he was being encouraged to address his dependency on alcohol and drugs and notably the missed opportunity to carry out a child in need review when Jade was approaching 18, which did not occur due to his case being closed prematurely.

“Jade’s death was contributed to by neglect.”

Mrs Schofield recorded a narrative conclusion.

Jade’s mother, Beatrice Hutchings, said: “Jade was my beautiful son. He was loved by all his family; his sister, dad and me. Jade had a bright future ahead of him.”

She said: “Jade bravely called for help but we didn’t realise he would be expected to keep knocking on a door that was repeatedly closed to him.”

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Mrs Hutchings called WSCC Children’s Social Services’ work with Jade ‘short-lived’, saying he found it difficult to get help from the NHS too, which made him feel isolated.

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She said there are ‘gaps’ in social services for children with identified needs who are then unable to get help from adult social services, as well as communication issues between doctors, patients and other services.

Mrs Hutchings added: “I am glad the coroner has shone a light on where there was a lack of support for my Jade and where changes can be made by the services involved. Hopefully this will prevent another family from suffering this type of loss in deeply tragic circumstances.”

Leigh Day solicitor Sandeep Michael, representing Beatrice, said: “The Coroner rightly recognised that this is a case where a series of failings by West Sussex County Council amounted to gross failure.”

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In a joint statement, WSCC’s director of Children, Young People and Learning Services Lucy Butler and director of Adults’ Services and Health Alan Sinclair said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Jade’s family, friends and all affected by his death.

“We acknowledge the findings of the inquest and the coroner’s conclusions, and we apologise for the level of service provided to Jade.

“West Sussex County Council is focused on continuously improving outcomes for children, young adults and their families, putting their safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything we do.

“We are committed to learning from Jade’s case and have already made, and will continue to make, changes to ensure young people in similar vulnerable situations receive the relevant level of support and services according to their needs.”

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They added: “Together with our partners, West Sussex County Council is committed to developing mental health and suicide support services for young people and everyone else in our communities.”