West Sussex coroner calls for ‘Richard’s law’ to protect vulnerable adults

JPCT 230413 County Hall North, Horsham, West Sussex. Photo by Derek Martin ENGPPP00320130424214348
JPCT 230413 County Hall North, Horsham, West Sussex. Photo by Derek Martin ENGPPP00320130424214348
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A coroner has called for a law to protect vulnerable adults, following the suicide of a man who was being financially abused.

Penelope Schofield, coroner for West Sussex, said she hopes a Serious Case Review following the death of 41-year-old Richard Copithorne, of King Edward Avenue, Worthing, will help protect more people in the community.

At an inquest into his death, held at County Hall North, Horsham, a jury found there were ‘failings’ by agencies working with Mr Copithorne, including Sussex Police and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Mr Copithorne, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1995, died after falling from the eleventh floor of Teville Gate car park, on July 23, 2013. The evening before he died, he called the police to alert them the man ‘abusing’ him was outside his house but the call was downgraded and police never attended the scene.

The jury heard Mr Copithorne was ‘petrified’ of a man who was known to police, who stayed at his flat, tried to become his carer and took his money and bank card.

James Copithorne, Richard’s father said he had made repeated attempts to alert police and mental health teams to the incident but reached the ‘end of his tether’.

The jury said there was a ‘lack of coordination’ in Mr Copithorne’s care and stated he had been subject to a prolonged period of ‘financial abuse by a known individual’.

Ms Schofield added there had been changes in domestic violence and child abuse laws – such as Sarah’s Law – and called for similar protection for vulnerable adults.

She said: “I’m hoping that the Serious Case Review can consider whether we can have a Richard’s Law where we can protect people like Richard who are in a vulnerable position.

“Poor communication played a huge part in this case.”

The court heard Mr Copithorne’s case did not class as domestic abuse because he was not in a relationship with the man involved.

Ms Schofield said she recognised there are ‘moves afoot’ to change the system of safeguarding vulnerable adults but called for the Serious Case Review to assess the need for a system that can be accessed by all agencies.

She added: “Most importantly, how families who have vulnerable people living in the community can get more involved with assisting family members and so by providing support during the difficult times.”

James Copithorne, who thanked the jury for their conclusion, said: “There is a lot of work to be done. We grieve the loss of Richard and he will never be replaced.”

A Serious Case Review will be overseen by Brian Boxall.

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