Parents of care home death son close in on inquest cash

Connor's parents Sara Ryan and Richard Huggins

Connor's parents Sara Ryan and Richard Huggins Buy this photo

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys. Call me on 01865 425403

MORE than a year after teenager Connor Sparrowhawk died in a mental health unit, his parents almost have enough money for legal representation at his inquest.

Mr Sparrowhawk, who was autistic and epileptic, was 18 when he died while having a bath at Slade House, Headington, on July 4 last year.

He is believed to have drowned following an epileptic fit.

His mother Sara Ryan and stepfather Richard Huggins, now run the Justice for LB campaign – Mr Sparrowhawk’s nickname was Laughing Boy.

It is still working to raise £25,000 before his inquest – expected to take place later this year – and has raised more than £22,000 so far.

Dr Ryan, a senior resear-cher and autism specialist at Oxford University’s Nuffield department for primary care, said: “Most people are absolutely shocked and horrified that we are expected to pay this to enable us to get into the inquest on an equal footing.

“We want a corporate manslaughter charge against the Trust, and that the law is changed so that there is automatically an independent investigation when someone dies in a care situation and that people with learning disabilities like Connor are treated equally. It’s quite a big ask.”

The Headington couple said the family has been unable to comprehend Mr Sparrowhawk’s death because of the stress of fundraising.

Dr Ryan said: “There’s not been a moment where I could grieve.

“It’s been completely obliterated. It’s all been pushed to the edge by what we have had to deal with.”

Mr Huggins said: “If people like ourselves – with good jobs and supportive employers – can’t bring about this campaign, then who can?

“If we didn’t fight then Connor’s death would have been marked as ‘died of natural causes, all procedures followed’. This is simply not true.”

The assistant dean at Oxford Brookes University added: “This unit was designed to care specifically for people like Connor. They were paid to care for him. It failed to care for him.

“The things that have come out in the last year and the people who have contacted us who have suffered similar situations, mean it’s clear this is just one of many.

“This is part of a systemic way that people with learning difficulties are handled.

“It’s never going to stop. There’s not enough political will or public knowledge behind this.

“I lay awake and think: ‘How did we get to this position that seems to fall on so many people?’”

The inquest would see Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Slade House, asked to give evidence about the death before a coroner.

The Oxford Times:

  • Connor Sparrowhawk

The Trust was criticised in a report by the Care Quality Commission which said the checks at 15-minute intervals on Mr Sparrowhawk during baths were not safe and a result of poor overall care.

The report said his death was preventable and criticised assessments and management of his needs.

Slade House – home to 15 adults – was shut in September, and it is still unclear when, or if, it will reopen.

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