Neglect contributed to death of woman who set herself alight in Peterborough mental health ward, inquest finds

The Cavell Centre, Peterborough.
The Cavell Centre, Peterborough.

An inquest has found neglect contributed to the death of a woman who set herself alight in a Peterborough mental health ward.

Heather Loveridge, 56, who had a history of burning herself, was found engulfed in flames in her bedroom’s en-suite toilet within a day of being voluntarily admitted to the Cavell Centre in Peterborough.

A four-day inquest at Cambridgeshire Coroner’s Court in Huntingdon concluded that her death was “misadventure contributed to by neglect”.

It followed around eight hours of deliberation, and jurors found there was a “high probability the lighter was in her handbag” on arrival at the ward.

Members of Mrs Loveridge’s family were at inquest, and wept as the conclusion was read out.

The Cavell Centre mental health facility is run by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

Cambridgeshire’s assistant coroner Belinda Cheney said some facts in the case were agreed, telling jurors: “The trust accepts that there was a failure to search Mrs Loveridge’s handbag.

“She shouldn’t have been able to access a lighter while on the ward.

“There was no delay in locating Mrs Loveridge and first aid treatment was appropriate.”

The inquest heard the trust had changed its admissions process since the incident, and Ms Cheney asked for further detail in writing.

“I reserve my position on any report to prevent future deaths until we have had that update,” she said.

A fire alarm had sounded shortly before 8am on August 17 last year and staff found Mrs Loveridge with her clothes and hair alight. They wrapped

a blanket around her to put the fire out.

Mrs Loveridge, who had psychotic depression, died two days later at Broomfield Hospital, which has a specialist burns unit, in Chelmsford,

Essex.

The grandmother, of Haddenham, Cambridgeshire, had previously set herself alight while an inpatient at Fulbourn Hospital mental health facility near Cambridge in 2013.

Her daughter, also called Heather Loveridge and from the Newmarket area, said her mother would have had a lighter and cigarettes in her handbag

as she was a smoker.

In a statement released after the inquest, Mrs Loveridge’s family said: “Heather had a heart of gold and would have given anything to help someone in need.

“Losing her has ripped a hole in the lives of her eight siblings, seven grandchildren and four beloved children.

“We could not think of a more horrific way to die and grapple with the circumstances in which we have lost her every day.

“We simply don’t understand how this could have happened when she was supposed to be in a safe and secure place.”

Tim Deeming, a specialist medical negligence lawyer from Slater and Gordon, which is representing the family, said: “This has been a harrowing few days for the family to listen to the circumstances surrounding Heather’s tragic death.

“The simple fact is that if Heather had not had access to a lighter then it is likely that she would be here today.”

He said lawyers will be asking for NHS Improvement to review and consider wider safety measures across the board.