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Family of Benn Sibbald, Lower Stoke, hit out at mental health teams for missing warning signs before teenager’s death

By Lizzie Massey

A family have hit out at mental health services after their son’s depression escalated to the point where he heard voices in his head, smashed up his house with a motorbike chain and was found dead, an inquest heard.

Benn Sibbald was just 17 when he died earlier this year, after what was described by a coroner as an “inexplicable mental episode”.

The teenager, from Lower Stoke, told his mother, Tracy Williams, that he was feeling depressed at the end of last year, after his grandfather’s funeral affected him more deeply than expected.

Benn Sibbald died at just 17, after months of suffering from depression.
Benn Sibbald died at just 17, after months of suffering from depression.

He was put through the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), but during that time he continued to self-harm – including taking an overdose in February and cutting his wrists in April.

On June 23 he had been out with friends at a war-gaming club and returned home on his motorbike at around 10pm, when he spoke to his mother and seemed fine, the inquest heard.

His stepfather, Thomas Sutton, said he heard loud banging, and when he and Ms Williams went up to see what was going on they found Benn slamming a screwdriver into his bedroom door.

Ms Williams, of High Street, said: “I tried to talk to him, tell him it was going to all be OK. I tried to get into his room, and I screamed because he nearly slammed my head in the door.”

“Benn came at me. I screamed. I thought he was going to attack me, but he just pushed past as if I was in his space, and then he started smashing the kitchen window" - Tracey Williams

Benn, who had never behaved aggressively before, fled from his bedroom window, and when his mother got in she found stacks of paper covered in his writing.

One message said: “You will bleed, you will die”.

Huge bangs continued downstairs, and the couple found Benn in the kitchen holding his heavy motorcycle chain, with glass everywhere and the patio doors destroyed.

Ms Williams said: “Benn came at me. I screamed. I thought he was going to attack me, but he just pushed past as if I was in his space, and then he started smashing the kitchen window.

“Benn, in there, wasn’t our Benn. He was only slight but he was so powerful.

“I didn’t think Tom would hold him so I told him to leave it.

“I didn’t care what got broken as long as it got his anger out. They were just possessions.”

Mr Sutton added: “He just wasn’t there. His eyes were absolutely black.”

Benn began smashing the windscreens of Mr Sutton’s and his neighbour’s cars, before running off.

Police officers, a helicopter and sniffer dogs searched for him, but it was his younger sister, Alanna, who found his body at around 5am on June 24 in a field off Cuckolds Green Road while walking the family dog. She called to him but there was no reply.

She ran home to tell her family.

For months, Benn had told social workers, counsellors and psychiatrists that he was suicidal and was hearing voices in his head.

Benn Sibbald at a reenactment event
Benn Sibbald at a reenactment event

Three times, Ms Williams approached the health service to ask if he could be admitted to hospital, but he was not.

After a personality clash with his first nurse, he was assigned to see clinical nurse specialist Nina Marshall in March and they met once a week.

Ms Marshall said she and Been spoke a lot about relationships, which he said always “seemed to go wrong” after he split up with his girlfriend and fell out with his best friend.

She said: “On June 10 he said he felt suicidal. He said he felt it was the only way out.”

At this point, Ms Marshall referred Benn to the Home Treatment Team (HTT), an emergency service whose specialists visit high-risk youths in their homes on a daily basis.

“He just wasn’t there. His eyes were absolutely black.” - Thomas Sutton

For more than a week different people turned up at his house asking the same questions and Benn did not open up.

It was not until June 23, during a visit from trainee April Tume, that he said he heard voices telling him to harm other people.

Ms Tume said: “I asked him if he thought he would act on these thoughts to harm others and he said he did.”

She called HTT immediately and the team agreed to speak to his doctor, Sophia Holliday, and carry out a review. But Benn died before that could happen.

HTT leader Julie Kirby said the role of the team was to try to keep youths out of hospital.

She said: “We felt we could offer Benn intensive treatment at home. He was still able to see friends, he had a supportive network around him.”

The team did not feel he was high risk, and even downgrading his risk a few days before his death.

The inquest was at Archbishop's Palace in Maidstone
The inquest was at Archbishop's Palace in Maidstone

Pathologist David Rouse found the cause of death to be suspension. Police found no third part involvement in Benn’s death, and coroner Alan Blunsdon recorded an open verdict.

The coroner said: “Within an hour and a half, Benn had an episode wholly inexplicable to his behaviour that day. It was completely out of character.

“To record a verdict of suicide, I have to be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that Benn had an idea of what he was doing… I don’t think anybody here could be satisfied about what Benn’s intentions were.”

Ms Williams, said: “I just don’t think they did enough to help Benn. I don’t know why they didn’t put more weight on what we as parents were saying. We have more knowledge of our child’s behaviour, even if we don’t understand it. He wasn’t going to open up to a new person every time.”

Cuckolds Green Road, Lower Stoke, near where Benn was found
Cuckolds Green Road, Lower Stoke, near where Benn was found

'Benn’s legacy'

The coroner made a strong warning to the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust to improve mental health services, saying this would be “Benn’s legacy”.

Dr Saqib Latif, acting clinical director of the trust’s children and young people service, said a serious incident review had been carried out as a result of Benn’s death.

Recommendations included:

  • Bringing the relatively young Home Treatment Team (HTT) service up to national standards
  • Reducing the number of HTT staff who saw individuals to build trust
  • Listening more to families
  • More direct contact with the psychiatrist.

Coroner Alan Blunsdon said: “I would put the pressure on to make sure these resources are made available. This should be Benn’s legacy. If a similar thing were to happen again, the finger could well and truly be pointed at the trust.”

The campaign will be run by Maidstone and Mid Kent Mind
The campaign will be run by Maidstone and Mid Kent Mind

Tributes to Benn

Benn was described as a normal teenager – better behaved than many – until 12 months ago.

Ms Williams said: “He loved playing war games on the PC and he was part of an reenactment group, which he enjoyed. His motorbike was his love in life. He had a lot of friends, and would go out to the cinema and things, but he wasn’t overly social. He was a bit of a home person and we would do a lot of things all together.”

He got into Chatham Grammar School for Boys, but applied for an apprenticeship with the National Grid as an instrumentation engineer. He gradually got through each stage and was eventually called in for a two-day interview and secured the apprenticeship.

Speaking after the inquest, Ms Williams added: “Benn is missed so much by his family and friends. He was such a kind, caring and thoughtful boy, who would do anything for anyone. He was our bright star who left too soon. We would like to thank family, friends and his employer, National Grid, for the support and care we’ve been shown the past few months.”

His elder sister Kerrie Adie said: “I hope the mental health services learn from their mistakes so that my little brother’s death isn’t in vain and it can prevent another family having to go through this.”

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