Parents of Henry Curtis-Williams ask why police and medical staff failed to tell them he was found on the Orwell Bridge just days before his death
PUBLISHED: 12:07 23 June 2016 | UPDATED: 12:07 23 June 2016
The parents of a student who took his own life are “distraught” that police and health staff failed to alert them to concerns about his mental state in the days leading up to his death.
Henry Curtis-Williams was detained by police under the Mental Health Act after he was seen peering over the top of the Orwell Bridge in Ipswich on May 11, the day after his 21st birthday.
He is believed to have been assessed by two psychiatrists from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and kept overnight in a mental health unit before being discharged the next day without his parents being told anything.
Henry, who was worried about his studies for a fashion and photography degree at the London College of Fashion, was found dead five days later on May 17 near his halls of residence in Acton, west London.
Police told his family there were no suspicious circumstances and it was believed the second year student had taken his own life.
But his parents only learned about the episode on the bridge and his overnight mental assessment when they were told about it by his GP in London three weeks after his death.
His father Stuart Curtis, 53, of Henley Road, Ipswich, and his mother who does not wish to be named believe that Henry was prematurely discharged and should not have been allowed to leave for London on his own.
They are also angry that they were told nothing at the time he was detained under the Mental Health Act for apparent reasons of patient confidentiality and data protection.
Mr Curtis, who is separated from Henry’s mother, said: “Surely the very fact that he was found by a police officer on the bridge was a large enough alarm bell that he posed a high risk of harming himself.
“I consider it to be negligence which contributed to his death. I cannot understand why he was not kept on an in-patient unit and treated appropriately for his low mood.”
Mr Curtis, a furniture dealer, is convinced that he and Henry’s mother would have been able to help him overcome his difficulties if they had been contacted.
He described Henry who lived mostly with his mother in Ipswich as “kind, considerate and polite, but also a private person who was able to keep problems hidden”.
Mr Curtis said: “There are all these professional people in the background who knew what had been going on with Henry, but we were told nothing. If we had been told, we could have nursed him and helped him.
“Tragically, it is too late for Henry, but these rules about confidentiality need to be looked at. I know he was technically an adult, but parents should be alerted in situations like this. The law is just wrong.
“I feel strongly that the authorities should tell families what is happening even in a very limited way. I really feel that if we had received that knowledge, he would still be alive today. Henry’s mother and I are distraught about his death and the circumstances. The level of grief that we feel is insurmountable knowing that we could have helped him, had we known.
“If it was an elderly person found in a vulnerable situation, then surely the family would have been contacted immediately. Why is it that mental health policies and procedures for young people are any different?”
Henry, a former pupil of St Margaret’s Primary School and Northgate High School in Ipswich, had a drink with his father at the town’s Woolpack pub on his 21st birthday on May 10.
Later that evening, he had a celebratory birthday meal out with his mother and his grandmother.
Mr Curtis said that Henry expressed fears to his mother that he would not be able to meet an end of term deadline for completing a college project. She had advised him to contact his tutors for help urgently.
Henry’s mother saw him for the last time when she dropped him off at Ipswich station the next morning on May 11 to catch a train back to London.
But she did not realise that he had stayed in Ipswich and had made his way immediately to the Orwell Bridge where he was found at 9.30am.
Mr Curtis celebrated Henry’s birthday again by going to London and taking him out for a meal in Covent Garden on May 15.
Henry told him nothing about what had happened on the bridge or his assessment by psychiatrists. Instead he just talked about his concerns over his college work.
Mr Curtis also advised him to contact his tutors for help, but Henry stated that they were “never available when you needed them”.
His mother’s last telephone conversation with Henry was while he was walking in London on May 16. When she asked him where he was, he said he was on his way to see his GP.
She asked him to call her as soon as the appointment finished, but he never phoned back or responded to her desperate calls and text messages.
His family were sent a condolence card by Henry’s GP in London after his death. As a result, his mother contacted the GP to ask for more information about him.
The GP called her two-weeks-ago and revealed to her for the first time police had found Henry on the Orwell Bridge on May 11 and had taken him to the Woodlands Psychiatric Unit at Ipswich Hospital. His mother was told that he was assessed by a psychiatrist and then transferred to the mental health unit at West Suffolk Hospital where he was put on a ward overnight, examined by another consultant psychiatrist and allowed to leave the next day with no medication.
The GP also confirmed that she had seen Henry in London on May 16 and was so concerned about him that she had prescribed him some medication and contacted an emergency mental health crisis team in London, but did not get an immediate response.
Henry had also tried to email his tutors, leaving a voicemail for one of them, but had not spoken to them.
Mr Curtis said: “We believe he took his own life that night or in the early hours of May 17. Ipswich police came round and told his mother that he had died on the evening of Tuesday, May 17.
“It is just so galling that we were not told anything about the severity of his mental health condition while he was still alive when we could have helped. They all knew that my son had been found on Orwell Bridge and had seen two consultant psychiatrists and then a GP in London.
“They should have told us, so we could have looked after him. Instead a policeman came to his mother’s door and told her, ‘Your son is dead’.
“Why didn’t the police just have a quiet word with us and tell us that we needed to get in touch with him quickly?
“I was so upset when I spoke to the GP. I asked her why we had not been told and she mentioned something about data protection.
“I said, ‘What the hell is that all about? I now have a dead son.’ I asked how she felt about it and she said she was devastated.
“If we had known, I would have got him back to a safe place – my house or his mother’s house – and talked things through with him. I would not have let him out of my sight and neither would his mother, if we had known that he had been found on Orwell Bridge.”
Mr Curtis said that Henry’s mother had told him: “My life has now been destroyed by the failings of these public services.
“I have lost my only son because of them. I feel sick every day I wake up and have nightmares when I try to sleep at night.
“Henry made a cry for help that day when he was found on the bridge and everyone let him down, especially local mental health services.
“They should never have let him go back to London on his own. That makes two lives they have destroyed.
“How many more lives will be lost before someone will take note and do something about the appalling quality of mental health services for young people”.
Mr Curtis said he and Henry’s mother believed their son’s tragic death echoes that of Edward Mullen, 18, of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, who died in front of a train in February last year after falling into depression.
A coroner concluded at an inquest last week that Edward who had a Cambridge University place had ‘slipped through the cracks’ of the mental health system.
A Suffolk Police statement said: “At 9.30am on Wednesday May 11, Suffolk Police were called to reports of a man looking over the edge of the Orwell Bridge.
“Officers attended and the man was detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. He was then transferred into the care of health professionals in Ipswich.”
A Suffolk Police spokesman added: “If we get a scenario like that, we would simply detain the person. Ultimately it is a mental health issue and we would put the person into the care of health services.
“If a person was under 18, we would probably have had more involvement.”
Alison Armstrong, director of operations for Suffolk for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said: “I am very sorry to hear about the sad loss of this young man.
“I cannot comment on individual cases, but if there is anything I can do to support family or friends please do get in touch.”