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Folkestone: Family of Sarah Stringer call for Kent and Medway mental health services to make changes after her death off Sunny Sands

By Matt Leclere

A family have called for changes to mental health services after the death of a daughter and sister in the sea off Folkestone.

Speaking after the inquest Sarah Stringer’s family said they hoped future deaths could be prevented and that families will be involved more in patients’ care.

Miss Stringer, of Cheriton Road, Folkestone, died at the William Harvey Hospital on November 22 at 9.56am around four hours after being pulled from the water at Sunny Sands.

Sarah Stringer
Sarah Stringer

Evidence read to the inquest at the Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone heard Miss Stringer was seen walking along the Harbour Arm at around 5.20am.

Acting Det Insp Cara Ferguson, from Kent Police, told the court there were no suspicion of third party involvement.

The two-day inquest heard how the day before Miss Stringer’s death she was stopped by staff on the Harbour Arm after she climbed over a fence and had walked to the end of the pier.

Miss Stringer’s father, Michael, told the inquest she had told him she was waiting for a boat to take her away.

Mr Stringer told the court of other delusions she had including talking to people in the room who were not present and other fantasies.

Dr Heather Simmons, a consultant psychiatrist, who saw Miss Stringer twice in December 2015 and April 2016, also told the court Miss Stringer had told her about delusions she had held for two years.

Emergency services at the Sunny Sands in Folkestone
Emergency services at the Sunny Sands in Folkestone

Dr Simmons added effects of the emotionally unstable personality disorder that Miss Stringer was diagnosed with included self-harm and 10% of those diagnosed committed suicide.

Coroner Christopher Morris ruled out suicide as a verdict because he could not be sure Miss Stringer had intended to cause her own death.

Following the inquest, Miss Stringer’s family issued a statement describing their devastation at the “sudden and tragic loss” of their daughter and sister.

The family said: “She struggled with mental illness for many years but it was difficult to get the support she really needed and she often fell through the net although we are grateful to those tried to help her.

“We felt that the mental health service did not really listen to family concerns when we tried to contact them and neither were we ever asked for relevant information about Sarah which we could have given because we were her family.

“We hope and pray that there will be sufficient changes in the mental health services to help prevent further deaths like this one and which will include family involvement.”

Archbishop's Palace in Maidstone
Archbishop's Palace in Maidstone

Recording his verdict, coroner Christopher Morris, said: “Sarah died at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford as a consequence of hypothermia and drowning due to immersion in sea water.

“Probably whilst labouring under a delusion she was waiting for a boat to take her away from Folkestone Harbour Arm.

“Despite a number of phone calls made to the mental health teams she was not offered a mental health assessment.

“It is not possible to determine if it would have prevented her death.

“The onus was on Sarah to keep her treatment under review.

“The absence of a care co-ordinator also reduced the continuity of care and the readiness of the service to receive important information from her family.

“It’s clear to me from the evidence I’ve heard Sarah was a much loved daughter and sister.

“She was clearly highly intelligent and articulate and well presented which probably made her harder to assess by professionals.”

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