‘Open verdict’ returned after inquest into death of woman found hanging in hospital

THE JURY returned an ‘open verdict’ this afternoon (Friday) at the inquest into the death of a woman who was found hanging while a patient on a mental health ward.

Natalie Clayton, 35, of Egremont Place, Hastings, who had been described as a ‘high suicide risk’ was found just hours after nursing staff moved her from round-the-clock observation to a 15 minute watch, on May 24, 2011.

A four-day jury inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall this week heard how she was placed on a life support machine but never regained consciousness and died six days after she was found at the unit on the DGH site in Eastbourne, on May 30, 2011.

The jury heard Miss Clayton’s admission to Amberley ward, run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, on May 14, 2011, was initially on a voluntary basis although she was later sectioned under the Mental Health Act after trying to leave the ward.

Miss Clayton had a long history of mental illness, and had been diagnosed with a personality disorder.

The decline in her mental health had been triggered by the death of her grandmother several days earlier who she was very close to.

After giving the jury a summary of the evidence heard over the course of the inquest, coroner Alan Craze said: “The obvious issue was, was the decision to change to 15 minute observations on May 24 appropriate?”

Mr Craze directed the jury that if they did not agree there was evidence beyond reasonable doubt to suggest Miss Clayton had intended to take her life and therefore committed suicide, they must return an ‘open verdict’, which they did after deliberating for around an hour.

For the full story including the reaction of Miss Clayton’s family, see the Observer on Friday, February 8.