Family 'affected for rest of their life' by death of Christie Harnett, 17, in mental health care

The family of Christie Harnett told Katie Cole about the immeasurable impact her death has had on them

The family of a teenager who died under the care of a mental health trust convicted of failing her say their lives will never be the same again.

Christie Harnett was just 17-years-old when she took her life while she was a patient at West Lane Hospital, in Middlesbrough, run by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV).

The youngster, from Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham, had made a similar attempt on her life just three months before her death in June 2019.

Following the sentencing of the trust on Friday (19 April) for failing to provide safe care and treatment to Christie, her family told ITV News Tyne Tees how her death had had an immeasurable impact on them.

"The first death I ever experienced was my own sister," said Ayron Harnett, who is one of five of Christie's siblings.

"What happened has just smashed me, and I don't think I'm ever going to find all the little pieces that have just fallen to the ground."

Ayron Harnett says he has been 'smashed' by the loss of his beloved sister Christie. Credit: Family photo

Christie's dad, Michael Harnett, said the scars left from losing his daughter are profound and long-lasting, and have rippled through those who loved her.

"Christie’s youngest brother at the time, he was only six," he explained. "It's not something that any family member should be doing, let alone a child having to stand there watching their sister die in hospital.

"It’s going to change them all and affect all of them for the rest of their life."

Christie had first come into contact with the TEWV Trust at the age of 10.

An independent investigation into her death, published in November 2022, uncovered 49 failings by the trust relating to its care of the teenager, including no plans to manage her risk of self harm or investigate her previous attempt on her life in March 2019.

The report also revealed a failure to respond to concerns raised by Christie, her family and staff, as well as an absence of skilled staff or training to manage her risk.

It was also found that rapid changes to staffing, including a mass suspension in November 2018, impacted Christie's care.

Christie Harnett with her dad and youngest brother who was just six when she died. Credit: Family photo

TEWV, which pleaded guilty to failing in Christie's and one other patient's care was ordered to pay a fine of £200,000 .

Christie's family say, while this brings them some relief, it's not justice so they are now calling for a public inquiry.

Ellis Brayley, Christie's sister, said: "I don't feel like we've got exactly what we wanted just yet, as no one specifically is going to be held accountable.

"I think it's a slap on the wrist and I don't feel like it's going to make any sort of difference towards the people that were in charge of it all."

Michael added that while the sentencing had brought some closure, a public inquiry was "the only way forward".

Ellis Brayley and her sister Christie Harnett shared a close bond. Credit: Family photo

This summer, Christie's family will welcome a new life as her sister Ellis is expecting a baby boy - a happy moment that is tinged with sadness.

"I don't have that sisterly bond that we had," she explained.

"When we were growing up, we always talked about having families and looking after each other's children and she is not here to do that with me and she's not here to experience the pregnancy, to be there and be the big aunty that she should be being."

Ellis turned 19 the day before burying Christie. While she still carries that pain, she says she is determined to help the memory of her sister live on.

"My baby boy will know exactly who she was and how beautiful she was - her smile," she added.

"My baby will definitely know who Christie was, 100%."

The Trust's CEO, Brent Kilmurray, has also given a own statement, which reads: "As we made clear in court today, we're deeply sorry for the events that led to these tragedies.

"We didn't provide the care these two people deserved, and the guilty pleas reflect that. Of course, that's no consolation for Patient X and Christy's loved ones, for which I offer our heartfelt apologies. "The CQC has acknowledged in our latest inspection that improvements have been made since then, however today is about being accountable and our thoughts are with the families at this incredibly difficult time."

The Trust has also confirmed Mr Kilmurray will not be resigning.

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