Priory Group pleads guilty to health and safety charges on death of 14 year old

By agency reporter
January 14, 2019

The Priory Group have pleaded guilty to health and safety charges following the death of 14 year old Amy El-Keria. This is understood to be the first prosecution of its kind and is a historic moment in terms of accountability following deaths of children in private mental health settings.

The hearing took place in Brighton Magistrates Court before District Judge Tessa Szagun. The judge has now committed the case to the Crown Court with a hearing scheduled on 6 February 2019. The Priory will now need to provide a detailed basis for their plea, including around whether their Health and Safety breaches are accepted as causative to Amy’s death.

Amy was a child with complex needs associated with multiple mental health diagnoses. She died whilst an NHS funded patient in a specialist children’s unit at Ticehurst House in East Sussex, a private psychiatric hospital run by the Priory Group.

Amy was found unresponsive with a ligature in her locked hospital room on 12 November 2012 and was pronounced dead the following day. An inquest jury in 2016 found that neglect by the Priory contributed to Amy’s death.  The inquest jury identified failures across all aspects of the care and treatment provided to Amy during her three month admission.

The Health and Safety Executive(HSE) commenced a criminal investigation after the conclusion of the inquest. This resulting prosecution was brought against the Priory Group for offences relating to Amy’s death under Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety Act.

Amy’s death is one of several cases of concern involving failures in mental health care by the Priory Group. The charity INQUEST remains concerned about transparency around deaths of children in both NHS and privately run mental health settings, as well as a lack of independent investigations into these deaths, despite higher standards in other detention settings. 

Responding to the plea, Amy’s mother Tania El-Keria said: "Amy was my dearly loved youngest daughter, a sister, niece and granddaughter with her whole life ahead of her. She had the warmest heart and a greatest sense of humour. She never liked to see people treated unfairly and would be the first to say, ‘that's not right’. 

"Amy's mental health care should never have been in the hands of a company whose priority was placing profit over her safety.  For 14 years we kept her safe but within three months with the Priory she was dead.

"Six long years it has taken for the Priory to be brought to Court. Every day I have to live with the heartbreak of my child’s death. Every day my family have to suffer her absence. The only thing that has kept me going is to achieve justice for Amy and to stop other families going through the torture we have endured. Today is a huge step forward achieving this. This guilty plea is a bitter but long awaited acknowledgement from the Priory of their criminal failure.”

Victoria McNally, Senior Caseworker at INQUEST who has supported the family since 2012, said: “This family have been failed by a system that placed Amy in the care of a private company, now exposed as operating criminally inadequate standards.  From the moment of Amy’s death the family have faced the hardest of battles for answers and action against those responsible. 

"The government must now review whether the Priory is fit to receive such significant public expenditure for the provision of children’s specialist mental health care. The family call for an immediate meeting with the Minister to discuss their response to the gross failures now brought to light through Amy’s and other cases involving the Priory.”

  1. Through casework INQUEST is aware of the following cases involving the deaths of children and young people receiving Priory in-patient mental health care:
  • Pippa ‘Pip’ McManus, 15 years old, died on 9 December 2015 while formally an inpatient of Priory Hospital Altrincham. 
  • Evelina Alksne, 22 years old, died on 30 March 2015 while formally an inpatient of Priory Group’s Recovery First Hospital, Widnes.
  • George Werb, 15 years old, died on 28 June 2014, in the care of Priory Hospital Southampton. 
  • Sara Green, 17 years old, died on 18 March 2014, in the care of Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal, Cheshire. 
  • Francesca Wyatt, 21 years, died on 28 September 2013, in the care of Priory Hospital Roehampton. In March 2013, HM Senior Coroner for Inner West London, Dr Fiona Wilcox, issued a Regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths,  identifying her concerns about ongoing risks.
  • Will Jordan, a 16 year old boy died after he was found hanging in the Priory Hospital North London on 22 January 2018. In August an inquest highlighted serious failures by Priory staff in carrying out observations.

* INQUEST https://www.inquest.org.uk/


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