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Parents of Colette McCulloch launch campaign to highlight the poor care and treatment they say she received

Colette McCulloch died whilst under the care of Pathway House near Bedford

Posted on 10 May 2018

The parents of a 35-year-old autistic woman, who was killed after being hit by a lorry on the A1, have launched a campaign to highlight the poor care and treatment they believe their daughter received. They have also described the battle they feel they are going through to secure a full and fearless Inquest into their daughter’s death.

Andrew and Amanda McCulloch launched #JusticeforCol on 9 May 2018 at a launch event to highlight their concerns over the inquest into the death of their daughter Colette was killed in July 2016 whilst under the care of Pathway House, a residential care home, part of the privately-run Milton Park Therapeutic Campus near Bedford. 

The Acting Senior Coroner for Bedfordshire, Ian Pears at a pre-inquest review (PIR) in December 2016 announced that the inquest into Colette’s death would look only at her death as a result of a road traffic accident. 

Despite Colette’s bereaved father trying to voice his concerns about failings he believed led to Colette’s death, he was 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. 

Following this first PIR, the family instructed Merry Varney from Leigh Day and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC from Doughty Street Chambers who argued on their behalf in February 2017 that the Inquest be widened, and that the right to life (Article 2) was engaged.

At a second PIR in March 2017, which the family described as a ‘harrowing experience’, the Coroner declined their request that he recuse himself given the family’s deep distress and concern regarding his conduct at the December hearing. 

The family continued to seek progress on matters, expressing concerns about delays and lack of progress which was exacerbating their distress. 

In October 2017, almost eight months after the second PIR, the Coroner ruled Article 2 was not engaged. This was despite lawyers for public bodies involved in Colette’s care agreeing with the family and no one arguing to the contrary.

It was only following a threat of judicial review by Andrew and Amanda, that the Coroner finally changed his position. In correspondence however he described their evidence as “conjecture”, despite the bereaved parents having been in very frequent contact with their daughter and intimately involved in her day to day care. 

The Coroner further made it clear in his response that if the family pursued legal proceedings, he would seek payment of his legal costs from the family if they lost, which could cost them their home.  

After a further three months waiting, in February 2018, the family were given 90 minutes on 24 May 2018 for the third PIR,  this would be 22 months after Colette’s death and over a year since the second PIR. 

The family wrote that month to the Coroner to express their concern at the time that was being taken to progress the inquest and suggested 90 minutes may not be sufficient time. They suggested some steps that could be taken to ensure progress be made in the three months before the hearing.

On 17 April 2018, almost two months after their letter, the family were told the PIR date was to be changed to 15 June 2018 and increased to two hours.

A request from the family to reinstate the original date given they were unavailable on 15 June, was refused. Despite other interested persons also expressing they had difficulties with the change of date, the Coroner described the family’s lack of availability as an “outcry of protest” and made no mention of other correspondence he had received.

Faced with further delays and their considerable concerns regarding the Coroner, the family have now sent a letter before action threatening a judicial review challenge if the Coroner does not agree to transfer Colette’s Inquest to another Coroner.

The family are hoping to fund their judicial review using crowdfunding. 

Andy and Amanda McCulloch said:

“Our daughter Colette was high functioning autistic. Her death in care was completely unnecessary and devastating. 

We are pursuing this not purely to get justice for Colette, but to try to ensure that preventable deaths of autistic and other vulnerable young people don’t happen in the future. We should not have had to battle for the past 21 months to secure a proper public investigation into her death.”

Merry Varney, the family’s solicitor said:

“Inquests are often the main, if not only, route a bereaved family have to truth and accountability in a public arena and where there is formal mechanism to prevent future deaths. It is vital they are conducted fairly, promptly and with full and effective participation of the bereaved family. 

The McCullochs are instead facing the second anniversary of their daughter’s death having to threaten a judicial review to try to ensure Colette, a vulnerable adult who died while in care, receives the Inquest she deserves.”