Mental health trust probed over patient deaths

Police have launched an investigation into the deaths of four patients who were under the care of a mental health trust, it was disclosed today.

Sussex Police are examining the circumstances surrounding the deaths of three men and a woman after they had been admitted to two units run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Police said the investigation into the trust, which provides mental health care throughout East and West Sussex, would be "wide-ranging and exploratory".

Inquiries began following the death of Sussex Police Sergeant Richard Bexhell, 49, who was found hanged at the Woodlands unit in Hastings and later died in hospital on August 30 last year.

When John Blair, 40, from Hastings, was found hanged in his room at the same unit on October 19, police decided to look back at other deaths at the trust.

The other two deaths relate to those of 35-year-old Susanna Anley, who is understood to have suffocated herself with a plastic bag in April 2008 at Woodlands, and Michael Stevens, 53, from Lancing, who hanged himself with a belt in his room at the Meadowfield unit in Worthing.

An inquest into his death last year heard Mr Stevens, a hospital porter, was able to hang himself following a "breakdown in communication" and a failure to implement observation policies.

Inquests into the deaths of the other three patients have yet to be heard, the trust said.

A Sussex Police 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."

Following the deaths of Mr Bexhell and Mr Blair, the trust closed Woodlands, which is based on the site of the Conquest Hospital. A trust spokesman said it is unlikely to reopen until investigations have been completed.

At the time of the closure, the trust said it would be reviewing guidelines on safety and security. It added that it had already implemented some early recommendations from the ongoing inquiry into Mr Bexhell's death.

These included revised policy on observations for people who are assessed as being at high risk of harming themselves. The other 25 patients at Woodlands were transferred to other facilities run by the trust.