Family left in the dark for a month about death of schizophrenia patient

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THE family of a South Tyneside man found dead in his own home say they’re still frustrated that it took the authorities a month to tell them of his death.

An inquest heard that John Brunton, of Aidan Grove, Jarrow, could have been dead for up to a week before he was found on November 5 last year.

My conclusion is that Mr Brunton’s cardiac problem is one of natural origin and I can do no more justice to this case that to simply record a finding of natural causes.

Terence Carney, South Tyneside coroner

The 59-year-old, known as Jackie, was found when police forced entry to his one-bedroom flat after concerns were raised by a nurse who had an appointment with him.

Mr Brunton had schizophrenia and required an injection every two weeks to stabilise his condition.

But when nurse Anne Sawkill, of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, and one of her colleagues failed to get an answer from him on four occasions, she alerted the police, who forced entry to his home and found him dead in his bed.

However, it was four to five weeks before his family were informed of his death.

Mr Brunton’s eldest brother, Paul, 64, of Jarrow, said: “We agree with everything that the coroner has said, but we still feel frustrated that it took four weeks for us to find out.

“It was 2014, and surely these three organisations should have been able to find us?

“If they hadn’t found us, Jackie could have been buried and we’d know nothing about it.

“Somebody eventually found our sister, Stella, and we were able to step in and give him a proper funeral. The inquest has given us some closure, but we still feel frustrated.”

The inquest, led by South Tyneside coroner Terence Carney at his office in Hebburn, heard that the police, council and coroner’s office had tried in vain to contact the family as Mr Brunton, who lived alone, had no registered next of kin on any of his documentation.

The inquest also heard that Mr Brunton had been estranged from his family, through his own choice and despite their attempts to build bridges, for a long time.

Forensic pathologist Dr Sharon Melmore said that he had a history of heart problems, type-two diabetes, gout and depression.

Dr Melmore said Mr Brunton had been dead “for at least a number of days, possibly a week” when discovered by police.

She gave the medical cause of his death as dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition when the heart becomes enlarged and pumps blood less well.

Pc Dave Webster found Mr Brunton face down on his bed.

He said it was determined quickly that there was no third-party involvement.

Karen Rowe, a coroner’s officer, told the hearing she had gone down a number of avenues to trace a next of kin, including asking South Tyneside Council’s adult duty team to search Mr Brunton’s home for any documentation or address books that could help identify relatives.

Mr Carney told the family not to reproach themselves about what had happened, adding: “There is nothing in what we’ve seen or heard that indicates this man’s death could have been avoided by anything you could have done differently or at all.

“Your attempts to engage with him were rebuffed, and what caused his death was his heart giving out.

“It is unfortunate that it was four to five weeks after his death before his family were alerted to it, but I am thankful that you were able to belatedly step in to give him the funeral he deserved.”

Finding: Natural causes

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