Just over three years ago I wrote a post I should never have had to write. I knew as I typed each searingly sad word about the death of my fourteen-year-old friend Amy that it wasn’t right. Two days ago a jury agreed.
Amy was kind, funny, energetic and compassionate. She had Tourettes and a number of other complex needs. When I met her and her mum at a Tourettes support group back in 2011 it was clear that she’d suffered immensely from other people’s misunderstanding.
Within a year she’d been excluded from her specialist school and had been admitted, funded by the NHS, to a Priory-run mental health hospital a hundred miles from her home. Three months later Amy was found in her room with her football scarf around her neck. She died the following morning as a result of her injuries.
At the time I wrote ‘I don’t know the full circumstances of Amy’s final hours but I do know that fourteen-year-olds should not die as she did.’
Finally, after relentless campaigning by her family, an inquest into her death has at last been held and on Wednesday the jury delivered their findings. One of these was that the Priory hospital had contributed to her death by neglect. In particular they found:
• There was a failure to dial 999 quickly enough
• There was a delay in calling a doctor
• Staff were not trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
• Levels of staffing were not adequate
• A lack of one-to-one time caused or contributed to Amy’s death in a significant way
Staff missed many opportunities to save Amy, not just after she tried to kill herself but also in the months, weeks and days before then. Amy told staff on the day she died that she wished to end her life, but no action was taken.
Tania, Amy’s mum, told Channel Four News yesterday, “Amy wanted to live, she asked for support, she never got that support.”
She was a vibrant, charismatic, but vulnerable fourteen-year-old, full of energy and potential. She should’ve been supported and nurtured, but that’s not the treatment she got.
During the inquest it emerged that she endured many forcible sedations, and periods of extended restraint by multiple members of staff, one of which took place on the day she died. As someone with Tourettes I have an inkling of how especially agonising and distressing it would have been to have her body forcibly held still. A former member of staff at the hospital said, “Amy was on her own in a sad and dark corridor, neglected.” The jury were also told that one member of senior staff had, “put on training on Tourette’s but nobody had attended.”
Back in December 2012, following Amy’s death, I wrote about the importance of improving understanding of Tourettes and changing negative attitudes towards difference. I said, ‘Never before has this felt so important, and never before have I wished the world could’ve been changed more quickly.’
This May was Tourettes Awareness month. Amy’s life and death underscored the fact that improved understanding isn’t just a ‘nice goal – it’s essential. I’ve thought about Amy often over the last three years, particularly at group meetings or events that I think she would’ve enjoyed.
I felt her absence last year when we held Idea Amplifier, a weekend workshop for young creatives with Tourettes. I wished that Amy had been amongst the young people collaborating on the film we were making, but the Priory’s failings meant she was not. I’m sharing the film now in her memory and with the hope that it will help contribute to a world in which there is greater understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity.
The jury concluded that Amy might’ve lived if she’d received proper care. Her death was preventable, her suffering was preventable, the agony her family has endured was preventable. We must now ensure that other young lives aren’t needlessly lost because of inadequate support and care.
To Amy’s family and to all those fighting for justice, you have my respect, support and solidarity. Thank you for ensuring that those responsible for her death have been held to account. I wish this wasn’t a battle you’ve had to fight.
I’ve made a donation to the charity Inquest who’ve supported Amy’s family throughout this gruelling journey. Do please do the same if you can.