Librarian died in squalor, inquest told

PUBLISHED: 08:18 13 May 2008 | UPDATED: 19:19 10 March 2010

A CORONER has said that lessons should be learned from the death of a librarian who had a schizophrenic condition that caused her in live in squalor.

A CORONER has said that lessons should be learned from the death of a librarian who had a schizophrenic condition that caused her in live in squalor.

But Dr Peter Dean said social services were not to blame for the death of Caroline Stevenson, 60, from Ipswich.

The inquest heard Miss Stevenson, whose condition caused her to neglect herself and retreat from the outside world, was found dead in her Beaconsfield Road home on April 30 last year. No cause of death could be determined.

The inquest was told social services knew about the conditions she lived in - and a police officer had told them her home was “disgusting” - no-one had been sent to Miss Stevenson's home to assess her needs.

Liz Johnson, senior practitioner and social worker, told the inquest that letters had been sent to Miss Stevenson asking about her welfare but when the woman, who had a history of refusing help, did not reply no follow up contact was attempted.

“Because her schizophrenia was long standing and she had disengaged with the mental health team I had to prioritise what else was going on,” she said.

She said at the time her department had 78 people, including Miss Stevenson, waiting for assessments and her team was short-staffed due to sickness and unfilled job vacancies.

The inquest heard that Miss Stevenson's sister, Jennifer Hicks, had contacted Miss Stevenson's GP, Dr David Ward, voicing her concerns after Miss Stevenson excluded her family from helping her.

The court heard that Miss Stevenson had stopped taking medication for her mental health and only attended the doctor's surgery when she decided to.

When Pc Alastair Scott visited Miss Stevenson on April 3 last year, he sent a referral form to social services stating that Miss Stevenson was living in “disgusting” conditions.

He said she looked in poor health, her legs were swollen and cut, there were piles of cigarette butts in the living room and dirty utensils and mouldy food on plates in the kitchen.

Mrs Johnson said many people chose to live in squalor and there was nothing that can be done to force them into accepting care.

Dr Dean heard that the post mortem of Miss Stevenson's body was inconclusive and no cause of death could be determined. He recorded an open verdict into her death.

He said that even if better procedures were in place between social services and other agencies, if staff shortages were not an issue and even if Miss Stevenson had accepted help, there was nothing to indicate that she would not have died.

However, he said he expected the Suffolk County Council agencies to have learned lessons from what had transpired at the inquest and make changes to prevent any repeat problems.

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