A mental health trust in Essex has been fined £1.5 million following the deaths of 11 patients between 2004 and 2015.

An investigation by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) – previously known as the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (NEPUFT) – looked at how it managed environmental risks from fixed potential ligature points in its inpatient wards between October 25, 2004 and March 31, 2015.

EPUT was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court on Wednesday, June 16 after pleading guilty at a hearing in November 2020.

The sentencing follows an eight-year campaign for justice by families, which has included inquests, internal investigations, petitions, and protests. Many families say they are still in the dark as to why their loved ones died.

The long-standing campaign has seen the families call, and continue to call, for a statutory public inquiry to look into failings across the county and to hold those in power to account and learn lessons for the future.

But the Government and Nadine Dorries, the minister of state for mental health, suicide prevention and patient safety, have stood by the decision to hold a non-statutory inquiry.

Families say this will have limited powers and reduced scope. Non-statutory inquiries lack the legal powers to compel witnesses to attend to give evidence under oath.

Melanie Leahy, whose son Matthew died while in the care of the Linden Centre in Chelmsford in 2012, said: “While I welcome the fine handed down against EPUT, it merely represents a slap on the wrist for a Trust that has failed and continues to fail countless families across Essex.

“Despite countless investigations and reviews, I am no closer to finding out what caused the death of my son almost nine years ago.

“I once again renew my call on the Government to convert their inquiry into a full statutory inquiry that has the legal powers to compel testimony, under oath.

“My family, and the others failed by the mental health services in Essex, cannot settle for anything less.

“We have a duty to find out what led to the deaths of our loved ones, and a duty to ensure lessons are learnt, hopefully sparing other families from the indescribable pain we’ve been through.”

Lisa Morris, whose 20-year-old son Ben died while at the Linden Centre in 2008, said: “Once again it has been proven that the care given to our loved ones by mental health services in the county was inept.

“However, despite our long campaign, today’s sentencing does not bring us justice.

“In the middle of a mental health pandemic, it is crucial that failings must be identified and lessons learnt.

"Until this happens the Government cannot look the public in the eye and tell them they are serious about mental health.”

The families are represented by Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors and supported by the charity INQUEST, which works with the families of state-related deaths and their investigations.

Priya Singh, a solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “This fine does not represent justice.

“It only scratches the surface of what is going so badly wrong in Essex. The only way to establish the truth of the gross failings in care across Essex mental health services is through holding a full statutory public inquiry.

“We urge Ms Dorries to covert the existing inquiry to a full and comprehensive statutory inquiry.”

Selen Cavcav, senior caseworker at INQUEST, said: “If it wasn’t for the persistence of the families the chances are these dangerous practices would have never come to light.”

EPUT chief executive Paul Scott said the trust is committed to doing everything it can to ensure the safest possible care is provided, and that every lesson is learnt.

Mr Scott said: “I would like to express my deepest sympathies and apologies to the families and friends who lost their lives. I am fully committed to ensuring that every lesson is learnt.

“Since joining EPUT as chief executive last October I have put safety at the forefront of everything we do.

“I am grateful to the families who have shared their experiences in court today, and also with me privately.

“Their experiences have had a deep impact on our staff and will help the trust to drive continuous improvements to safety on our wards.

“The court has heard that improvements have already been made to our services. There has also been significant investment made to patients safety – in the last year alone we have spent an additional £10 million on ward safety.

“We will continue to develop our services with safety at the forefront of our work.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure EPUT provides the safest possible care so that our patients and our local community have confidence in the services we provide.”