Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Police investigate Sussex mental health trust deaths

Sgt Richard Bexhell
Sgt Richard Bexhell was found hanged at the Woodlands Unit

Police have begun an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four people under the care of a mental health trust.

Officers are looking into the deaths of three men and a woman who had been admitted to units run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Inquiries began after Sussex Police Sgt Richard Bexhell, 49, was found hanged at the Woodlands unit in August 2009.

John Blair, 40, of Hastings, was found hanged at the same unit in October.

'Breakdown in communication'

Both men died at the intensive care unit of the Conquest Hospital, Hastings.

Susanna Anley, 35, died at the Woodlands unit in April 2008, and Michael Stevens, 53, from Lancing, died at Worthing Hospital after he was found hanged in his room at the Meadowfield unit in Worthing.

An inquest into his death in 2009 heard that a "breakdown in communication" and a failure to put observation policies into practice allowed Mr Stevens - who was a hospital porter - to kill himself.

Inquests into the other deaths have not yet been held.

A force spokesman said: "Sussex Police are establishing the facts surrounding these four deaths and are being assisted in the investigation by the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

"The police are working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service."

'Deepest sympathy'

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said the four deaths had been the subject of detailed reviews and it was "fully supporting" the police investigation.

The trust said: "These reviews do not always highlight failings. In many instances it is only with hindsight that it is possible to identify potential changes or improvements.

"When we do identify a failing, however, we take action and ensure that changes are made to address it.

"Following the Woodlands deaths, we closed the unit to conduct a full safety assessment and have commissioned an independent review which will be validated by the National Patient Safety Agency."

It added: "Sussex Partnership has extended our deepest sympathy to the families of those who have died and the results of our reviews are being shared with the families and Her Majesty's Coroner."

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