17.04.19

Private mental health group The Priory fined £300,000 over death of 14-year-old girl

Private mental health group The Priory healthcare group has been fined £300,000 for breaching health and safety laws following the death of 14-year-old Amy El-Keria.

El-Keria was treated at Priory Group’s Ticehurst House psychiatric hospital in East Sussex and was deemed high-risk with a “recent and known history” of suicide attempts, but she died in the trust’s care in 2012 three months after she was admitted.

She had been left unsupervised with the means to carry out another suicide attempt, and an inquest in 2016 found that El-Keria’s death could have been prevented if she had been given proper care.

The private mental health group was charged under health and safety laws after a criminal investigation was launched by the Health and Safety Executive, and it indicated a guilty plea following a hearing at Brighton Magistrates Court.

Priory was today found guilty of breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety Act and fined £300,000 in what is understood to be the first prosecuting of its kind.

Sentencing at Lewes Crown Court, judge Mr Justice James Dingemans said it was obvious no penalty imposed “could ever reflect the loss suffered by Amy’s family in this case.”

“Amy's mother, when giving her victim impact statement, said that she hoped that lessons would be learned from this tragedy.

“It is apparent from the investigations that have been carried out in Amy's death, and the works carried out by Priory Healthcare and the CQC, that there is now a much better understanding of young person suicide, and that vital lessons have been learned.”

Inquest, the charity supporting the family, said it was a “historic moment in terms of accountability following deaths of children in private mental health settings.”

Victoria McNally, senior caseworker at Inquest, said: “Today's historic decision is the achievement of Amy's family and their brave fight for justice in her name.

“The marketisation of our mental health system enables the Priory to put profit over the safety of children in its care.

“The lack of any independent system of investigation, allowing the Priory to investigate their own actions, has meant it took six and a half years for their criminally unsafe practises to be exposed.

“If we are serious about child safety and welfare, such a blatant lack of oversight and scrutiny cannot continue.”

Priory Healthcare had a turnover of £122m in 2017, with an operating profit of £2m, and must now pay a fine of £300,000 as well as paying the Health and Safety Executive’s cost of £65,800 and a victim surcharge of £120.

Trevor Torrington, head of the Priory Group, repeated the company's “sincere and profound apologies to Amy's family.”

“We remain absolutely focussed on patient safety and will continue to work closely with commissioners and regulators to learn lessons from incidents and inspections quickly and ensure all concerns are addressed in a timely and robust way.”

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