County Durham family who lost son to suicide claim lessons not learnt at mental health trust

A County Durham family say they’re disappointed that lessons have not been learned after their son took his own life whilst under the care of a troubled mental health trust.

Twenty-five year old Luke Gaul from Hamsterley Colliery died in August 2016 and his parents Len and Ruth are backing calls for a public inquiry into Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

Credit: Family photograph

Luke suffered mental health problems and suicidal thoughts whilst at University and was referred to the trust by his GP. 

His family say he was put on a waiting list for months and was just offered telephone counselling, a service he and his doctor appealed against.

Following Luke’s death in 2016 an inquest found there were no failings in his care.

His family took legal action and the trust later admitted care had fallen below the standard expected.

It said while they can't say his death was preventable appropriate care would have reduced the risks to him.

Credit: Family photograph

Inquest, a charity supporting bereaved families whose relatives have died in mental health care settings say it is aware of fourteen people who have died between 2016 and 2020 whilst under the care of Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

Inquest says the numbers are alarming and justify a public inquiry into the trust. 

Alistair Smith, a solicitor in Middlesbrough is representing some of the families and says he is aware of twenty-two deaths in the last five years of patients under the trust's care.

An independent investigation is already underway into the failings of West Lane, a children's mental health hospital in Middlesbrough which was managed by the trust. The inquiry commissioned by NHS England is looking at three deaths.

The Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald says he is concerned it may not go far enough and a broader inquiry is needed.

The trust have denied failures are systematic and say regulators tell them they're not unsual in the number of deaths of patients under their care. 

They do not believe a broader inquiry is justified.

In a statement Brent Kilmurray, chief executive at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one while under the care of the trust. Having met with many of the families in recent months, I know the pain that they, and others, have endured. Every single death is a tragedy.

 “There have been failings and I’m determined to improve our service to the community.

“Our ambition is to have a suicide rate of zero. To help achieve that, we have listened and identified the need for us to make improvements – and this includes our culture and behaviour. A better experience for those using our services is my top priority.

“As a result of lessons learned, we have made changes to care plans, risk assessments, to some of our ward routines and made investment in environments to make them safer for people in our care.  

“We fully accept the need for accountability, and we are strongly regulated by organisations with wide-ranging powers such as the Care Quality Commission.”

Contact details for mental health services in the region

  • Who do I contact if I need urgent mental health support?

If you feel like harming or hurting yourself or other people:Call 999Go to your nearest Accident and Emergency department (A&E).You can find your local department here.

For non-emergency situations:Visit your GP

Call NHS 111 (NHS Direct)Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Trained nurses can tell you about your local crisis support services or your nearest A&E and provide other health advice.Tel: 111Web:

For more information, visit Mental Health North East's website.Credit: Mental Health North East

If you have a mental health problem and are experiencing a mental health crisis you can contact your local NHS Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Service.

  • Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team contact details:

Gateshead - 0191 814 8899

Hartlepool - 01429 285 858

Middlesbrough - 01642 835 295

Northumberland - 0303 123 1146

Newcastle - 0191 814 8899

North Durham - 0191 441 5738

North Tyneside – 0303 123 1146

Redcar and Cleveland - 01642 838 300

South Durham (includes Darlington) - 01325 552 230

South Tyneside - 0303 123 1145

Stockton - 01642 524 714

Sunderland - 0303 123 1145

Alternatively, you can contact one of the following mental health charities:


North East based organisation which promotes emotional wellbeing in young people and supports families affected by suicide.

Call: 0191 387 5661Website:


Samaritans provide confidential, non-judgemental emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

You can call the Samaritans on: 116 123 (freephone, landlines and mobile)




PAPYRUS is the national UK charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. If you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide you can:

Call Papyrus on: 0800 068 41 41(Mon-Fri 10am to 5pm and 7pm to 10pm; Weekends 2pm to 5pm)

Text: 07786 209697



  • CALM

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is the male suicide prevention charity.

Call: 0800 585858(Free, confidential helpline open every day 5pm–midnight)

Website: service offering support, information and signposting to men who are depressed or in crisis (also 5pm-midnight).


Contact the Advice Team about mental health & related issues.

Call: 0300 5000 927Monday - Friday 10am - 2pm, not including bank holidays

  • SANE

SANE runs a national, out-of-hours mental health helpline offering specialist emotional support and information to anyone affected by mental illness, including family, friends and Carers.

They are open every day of the year from 6pm to 11pm.

Call: 0300 3047000


Mental health support for young people.

Call: 0191 2305400 or 0191 2305533


Anxiety UK runs a helpline on weekdays between 9.30am–5.30pm.

Call: 03444 775 774