Inquiry into the death of David ‘Rocky’ Bennett begins

March 20, 2003

Written by Inquest

The public part of the inquiry into the death of David ‘Rocky’ Bennett began this week. Rocky Bennett, a 38-year-old Black man, was certified dead in the early hours of Saturday 31 October 1998. He had been a detained patient in the Norvic Clinic, an NHS medium secure unit in Norwich, for three years.

His death followed an incident involving the use of restraint. The inquest opened on 3 May 2001 and returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death aggravated by Neglect’ on 17 May 2001. Following the inquest, HM Coroner for Norfolk made six searching recommendations with an emphasis on the need for national standards on restraint in psychiatric hospitals, and for staff to be pro-active in dealing with incidents of racist behaviour by and against patients.

Following the inquest, the family of Mr. Bennett, their lawyers and the campaigning group ‘Inquest’ called on the government to consider holding a public inquiry into Mr. Bennett’s death. Instead, the Minister agreed to an extended form of the usual inquiry that follows a death in psychiatric detention, with a public element looking at the national lessons to be learnt.

Helen Shaw, co-director of Inquest, said: ‘We have welcomed this inquiry although it falls short of a full public inquiry. This is a case that raises significant questions about the treatment of black people in psychiatric custody, institutional racism within the NHS and the dangers of restraint. We are pleased that members of the panel conducting the inquiry include Dr Richard Stone, advisor to the Lawrence Inquiry and Professor Sashidharan, a consultant psychiatrist and leading expert in mental health issues and the black and minority ethnic communities. We hope that this inquiry will result in significant and lasting change.’

The issues which Inquest will be raising, when it presents evidence to the inquiry on 1 April, will be:

  • ‘institutional racism’ within the NHS;
  • the failure of the NHS to learn from previous deaths following the use of control and restraint and the failure of government to ensure cross communication across different custodial settings;
  • the lack of central collection of information on deaths of detained patients and monitoring of the issues arising from inquests;
  • over-diagnosis of severe mental illness in Black people with mental health problems;
  • the poor treatment of bereaved families following a death.

Inquest has drawn national and international attention to the disproportionate number of deaths of black people in custody following the use of force or gross medical neglect. There have been detailed coroners’ recommendations on the use of restraint and the dangers of positional asphyxia following deaths in police and prison custody. Despite urging from ourselves and the MPs concerned in Mr Bennett’s case soon after his death, no formal mechanism has been established to ensure that the dangers of restraint are being learnt in all relevant forums and government departments. There is a complex and controversial scientific debate about deaths following restraint and yet it continues to be routinely used in many settings (psychiatric, social services and educational) without due regard to the potential dangers.

One of the ways in which bereaved families can find comfort and move on from such a tragedy is if they believe, despite the horrific nature of the particular circumstances of the death, that some positive changes will be made for the future. The death of David Bennett could provide an opportunity to precipitate root and branch change in the treatment of all people with mental health problems and in particular address the specific needs of Black patients.

Related links

Inquest

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

March 27, 2003
melissa:

this is horrible to hear that in that country there is so much discrimination. i can not believe that police and the people who are so-called role models can get away with that type of behavior!i am disturbed by this article. may he rest in peace

March 27, 2003
melissa:

this is horrible to hear that in that country there is so much discrimination. i can not believe that police and the people who are so-called role models can get away with that type of behavior!i am disturbed by this article. may he rest in peace

February 13, 2004
sindy:

I am a qualified RMN and word in a large town with a large multi racial culture. I am white. When I nurse violent patients it doesn’t matter what colour they are. Control and restraint is the last option, it is used to protect the patient and others who maybe at risk. If the patient has been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, they must have been exhibiting symptoms of this. If patients are brought into hospital because of these symptoms they are not diagnosed until they have been thoroughly assessed by a wide and varied range of professionals. If the patient is being violent, nurses have the right to protect themselves, we are not punch bags for patients of any nationality or colour. Lay persons writing messages without any knowledge base can cause scandal which is unnessesary. I feel for Mr Bennett’s family, but mental health nurses should not be tarred with the same brush. I have been trained to use Control and Restraint for over 12 years during that time the methods have been regularly updated to prevent asphyxiation, remember it is used as a last resort. Nursing staff are putting themselves at risk by using it and increasing the risk of injury. The patient will have spent time with staff, been offered oral medication and methods of psychological de-esculation would have been tried. C&R would only be used when all of this had failed.

February 13, 2004
sindy:

I am a qualified RMN and word in a large town with a large multi racial culture. I am white. When I nurse violent patients it doesn’t matter what colour they are. Control and restraint is the last option, it is used to protect the patient and others who maybe at risk. If the patient has been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, they must have been exhibiting symptoms of this. If patients are brought into hospital because of these symptoms they are not diagnosed until they have been thoroughly assessed by a wide and varied range of professionals. If the patient is being violent, nurses have the right to protect themselves, we are not punch bags for patients of any nationality or colour. Lay persons writing messages without any knowledge base can cause scandal which is unnessesary. I feel for Mr Bennett’s family, but mental health nurses should not be tarred with the same brush. I have been trained to use Control and Restraint for over 12 years during that time the methods have been regularly updated to prevent asphyxiation, remember it is used as a last resort. Nursing staff are putting themselves at risk by using it and increasing the risk of injury. The patient will have spent time with staff, been offered oral medication and methods of psychological de-esculation would have been tried. C&R would only be used when all of this had failed.

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