Lord’s suicide ‘could have been avoided with proper medical help’

Family members of Marquess of Queensberry’s son reject coroner’s ruling and say he would still be alive if he had been admitted to hospital

A MAIDA HILL aristocrat who threw himself off the top of a Paddington tower block would still be alive now if he had received the correct medical help, his family said today.

Lord Milo Douglas, 34, fell from the fifth floor of Reading House on the Hallfield council estate in July 2009 days after pleading to be admitted to hospital.

But recording a verdict of “killing himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed”, Westminster coroner Paul Knapman removed any responsibility from medical professionals who had looked after Lord Douglas.

The son of the 12th Marquess of Queensberry, Lord Douglas had long battled with bipolar disorder and was on medication for depression.

In the weeks leading up to his death, he told medical professionals of hearing voices telling him to harm himself or someone else and later described having suicidal feelings.

He visited Louise Farmery, a practice nurse at Bayswater Medical Centre on July 14 telling her he was contemplating suicide and he wanted to be admitted to hospital.

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Ms Farmery immediately phoned the community mental health team and staff from the North Westminster Crisis Resolution Team (CRT) were called in to help.

Different CRT officers visited Lord Douglas at his Maida Hill home on Fermoy Road on six of the next seven days but he committed suicide on July 21.

Dr Philip Joseph, CRT consultant psychiatrist, said: “It’s entirely understandable that following an event like this people say something has gone wrong.

“If he had gone into hospital he would have been in a ward with some very disturbed patients and he may have decided to come out very quickly.

“It’s wrong to assume that by going into hospital for a period it would have solved the problem.

“He had talked about wanting to go to hospital but when he was taken on by the CRT he no longer expressed a desire to.

“We were concerned about him but did not feel that there was a risk of imminent suicide.

“If we knew that this was going to happen then we would have admitted him to hospital.”

Lord Douglas’s death marked the first death in seven years of anyone under the care of the CRT.

Outside court his family criticised the decision not to admit him to hospital and the use of different people to visit him in the week leading up to his death rather than one regular doctor.

Summing up the case, Dr Knapman said: “The fact is that the people seeing him were either psychiatric nurses or support staff. Even if people want to be seen by psychiatrists and taken to hospital whenever they want it, the resources of the NHS don’t allow that.

“Bearing in mind the circumstances I think his treatment by the Crisis Resolution Team, though not perfect, was satisfactory and reasonable.”

Lord Douglas’s mother Lady Alexa Douglas said: “We were absolutely unsurprised by the verdict but we continue to feel that if he had had his cries for help acted upon, particularly when he said he wanted to go to hospital, he would be alive.”

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, also criticised “serial failings” in the care Lord Douglas received.

“The evidence revealed that mentally ill people have no choice to be admitted to hospital and nowhere to turn when they feel they can no longer live in the community without being a risk to themselves,” she said.

“Milo Douglas expressed a clear wish to be admitted to hospital six days before carrying out the suicide he had described in detail to some professionals.

“Instead he was sent a series of different junior members of a Crisis Resolution Team who failed to respond to the seriousness of his state of mind.

“We believe that had his pleas for help been respected, this tragedy, like many others we deal with on a daily basis, would never have happened.”

Months before his death, Lord Douglas had written a letter in March to Dr Stuart Cox of the community health team asking to see a different psychiatrist to his regular doctor, Dr Munira Blacking.

The letter was not seen by Dr Cox and only after Lord Douglas sent a second letter in June did the doctor arrange an appointment to see him on July 23 – an appointment that never occurred due to Lord Douglas’s death.

Dr Blacking told the court the letter had come as a “surprise” and it had “saddened” her.

Lord Douglas had worked for the Action Against Hunger charity and was one of the Marquess of Queensberry’s 12 children.