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Family call for police investigation into 'avoidable' death of schizophrenic woman

Mr and Mrs Mitchell believe their daughter starved herself. Photo: Family photo

Police are going to meet the family of a woman with schizophrenia who died alone and malnourished in her flat in Plymouth.

Ruth Mitchell was 40 when she was found dead in her flat in St Budeaux in 2012, prompting a series of reports which found multiple failings in her care.

She was under the care of mental health services at the time. The level of care she was receiving had been reduced from Enhanced Care Programme Approach to standard care in 2007-08.

This meant nobody visited her at home any more. When she died she had barely any possessions or furniture and had lived without heating or hot water for four years.

Ruth Mitchell's family say her death was completely avoidable. Credit: Family photo

A report in November 2017 pointed out a number of missed opportunities to respond to concerns about Ruth’s deteriorating condition, including repeated prompting from her parents.

The report also highlighted the mental health service’s failure to flag up Ruth’s condition and vulnerability with other agencies such as the police and housing. It meant they didn’t escalate Ruth's situation on the occasions they were called to deal with incidents.

The report was published 5 years after Ruth's death. Credit: ITV West Country

The report said there was no sense of Ruth "as a person" and that in her case, "agencies worked very separately and shared no information".

Following the report’s publication, Ruth's parents Russell and Anne Mitchell said there was a case for corporate manslaughter and asked Devon and Cornwall Police to investigate. The force has now confirmed that a Senior Investigating Officer will meet the family.

Mr Mitchell said: “The fact that Devon and Cornwall Police are to investigate the circumstances of our daughter's avoidable death whilst under treatment by Livewell South West is welcomed. We see it as a natural next step arising from the independent inquiries conducted so far, which whilst examining why things went so tragically wrong for Ruth, did not address issues of culpability.

“We accept medicine is not an exact science, but these circumstances are not about a misdiagnosis, it is more akin to clinicians and the corporate entity making a wilful decision not to follow accepted clinical practice and agreed local policy, and as a result Ruth suffered.

“Devon and Cornwall Police will hopefully investigate this matter thoroughly and bearing in mind the significant public interest involved here, we are hopeful that the police will liaise with the coroner to review the original inquest evidence and take into account everything that has since been revealed and which the coroner was unaware of at the time and therefore unable to examine.

“A second inquest would allow all the evidence to be formally entered into the record and ensure a verdict is arrived at which accurately reflects the circumstances and factors contributing to Ruth's avoidable death.

“This of course would be subject to the outcome of the police investigation and any criminal proceedings the police may consider proffering."

Livewell Southwest has previously said it will cooperate with any investigation should one happen.