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New Coroner to broaden scope of inquest into death of woman with autism

The inquest into the death of a 35 year old woman with autism will resume with a new coroner following the decision by the previous coroner to stand down following a legal battle by her parents

Posted on 02 July 2018

A pre-inquest review (PIR) will take place on 13th September 2018 into the death of Colette McCulloch who was 35 when she was killed on the A1 in the early hours of the morning in July 2016.

At the September PIR, Martin Oldham, the current assistant coroner in Bedfordshire, will take over the role of coroner of this investigation and will agree the list of witnesses who will be called and the timings for the full inquest into Colette’s death.

Colette’s parents Andrew and Amanda McCulloch took legal action against the previous coroner, Acting Senior Coroner for Bedfordshire Ian Pears, who they accused of bias and delay.

At a previous PIR, in December 2016, Mr Pears announced that the inquest into their daughter’s death would look only at her death as a result of a road traffic accident.

Despite their attempts to widen the coroner’s investigation, due to their concerns about their daughter’s care, Colette’s parents were told the inquest would not look at how Colette came to be on the A1 at 2:30am whilst in the care of a private mental health clinic.

At the time of her death Colette was under the care of Pathway House, a residential care home specialising in autism, part of the privately-run Milton Park Therapeutic Campus near Bedford.

Now, almost two years since their daughter’s death, the new Coroner has confirmed that he intends to investigate how and why Colette was on the A1 at 2:30am and proposes to instruct an independent expert to consider the care and treatment Colette received.

In addition, the replacement Coroner has agreed with the family’s request first made in February 2017 that Sussex Partnership NHS Trust, who commissioned Colette’s care, should be invited as an Interested Person, which means that they will play a role at the future inquest.

Assistant Coroner Oldham further indicated his intention to seek evidence from Colette’s Care Co-Ordinator, all steps the family had requested of the previous Coroner but were denied or not responded to.

Mr and Mrs McCulloch said: “We are very pleased to note the rapid progress made by Assistant Coroner Oldham in our daughter’s Inquest and impressed by his change of approach.

“We feel much more positive about the investigation uncovering the truth of what led to our daughter’s death. However we remain angry about the eighteen months of delay and prevarication that took place under the previous coroner.”

Merry Varney, the family’s solicitor, said: “We are extremely pleased that Assistant Coroner Oldham is progressing this matter promptly and has already confirmed an expanded scope for his investigation. These welcome decisions are in stark contrast to the previous experience of the family and highlight the lottery that exists within the current Coronial system, which if working properly should benefit us all.”

The McCulloch family are represented by Merry Varney from Leigh Day and Samuel Jacobs from Doughty Street Chambers