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No criminal charges over patients' deaths

No criminal charges will be brought over the deaths of five patients who were under the care of a mental health trust, police announced today.

Sussex Police launched an exploratory inquiry earlier this year into the deaths of four men and a woman at three units run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust between September 2008 and March this year.

Today detectives from the force's major crime branch announced that their inquiries had found no evidence of criminal offences.

Police said a detailed timeline of what happened had been established and shared with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who considered whether crimes had been committed.

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 in August 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.

One of the deaths related to 35-year-old Susanna Anley, who is understood to have suffocated herself with a plastic bag in April 2008 at Woodlands.

The other two deaths were those of Michael Stevens, 53, from Lancing, who hanged himself with a belt in his room at the Meadowfield unit in Worthing in September 2008, and an unnamed 27-year-old man at Millview hospital in Hove in March this year.

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 four patients have yet to be heard.

Today Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Bowles, who led the exploratory inquiry, said: "The public rightly expects us to fully and impartially investigate deaths in public facilities.

"Whether or not an unexpected death is believed to be suspicious, police have a duty to establish the circumstances on behalf of the county coroners and those who have lost loved ones.

"Although this investigation has not found evidence of criminal offences, we will still be providing detailed information to the coroners that will significantly assist the four inquests that are yet to be heard.

"Officers have today spoken with the families of those who died to explain as much as we can, although they understand that we cannot prejudice the future inquests.

"These hearings will take place when dates have been set by the coroners for the areas where the deaths happened.

"The Sussex Partnership NHS Trust - which manages the facilities where the five people died - has assisted us by providing the details required throughout the investigation and has been informed of the outcome today."

Woodlands was closed as a precaution by the trust in October last year to allow an independent review to be carried out.

The trust said that the inquiry found the service to be safe and Woodlands is due to be reopened next month.

Following today's police announcement, Lisa Rodrigues, chief executive at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: "The Crown Prosecution Service and Sussex Police have looked at each of these incidents and concluded that there is no criminal case to answer.

"We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with Sussex Police.

"We will be providing reports to Her Majesty's Coroner and attending the inquests yet to be heard in the usual way.

"We would once again like to repeat our very deep condolences to the families of those who have died."

The trust said that it deals with more than 600,000 contacts a year with people needing support with mental health, learning disability and substance abuse problems.

It added that the rate of deaths in its hospitals was lower than for similar services elsewhere.

In a statement, it said: "Our staff go to tremendous lengths to keep people safe while providing therapeutic care.

"There are always lessons that we can learn from any incident and we always carry out a thorough review.

"We may bring in external experts to advise us, as we did in two of these cases."