Inquiries called into deaths of patients who fell from cliff

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The Independent Online

Two separate inquiries have been called into the deaths of three mental-health patients at a seaside beauty spot.

Two separate inquiries have been called into the deaths of three mental-health patients at a seaside beauty spot.

The bodies of two men and a woman were recovered on Wednesday night from the foot of cliffs at Salcombe Hill, near Sidmouth, Devon. The three had been "informal" patients at the Cedars in-patient unit in the grounds of Wonford House Hospital, in Exeter.

Devon Partnership NHS Trust is seeking to hold its own inquiry into the events that led to the deaths.

Valerie Howell, the trust's chief executive, said: "We will be undertaking our own review into the very tragic incidents that have taken place."

Part of the inquiry would focus on the adequacy of the care arrangements for the individuals, she said.

A trust spokesman said informal patients were not detained for treatment under the Mental Health Act and were able to leave the unit as they wished.

The Police Complaints Authority is also to supervise an investigation into the deaths, which are being treated as possible suicides.

A police officer was near the scene when the incident occurred, and the Devon and Cornwall police force referred the matter to the complaints authority.

The officer, who had been checking the cliffs at Salcombe Hill, saw three people at the top at 7pm on Wednesday.

A police spokesman said: "Within minutes they had fallen to their deaths at the foot of the cliff."

The Devon and Cornwall police helicopter, the Portland coastguard helicopter and the Sidmouth Inshore Rescue Service lifeboat arrived at the scene at 7.15pm, when the bodies of two men and a woman were recovered.

Post-mortem examinations were being carried out last night on the two men, who were in their late teens or early twenties, and the woman, who was in her late twenties.

The three have not been named but are believed to come from Exeter, about 12 miles away.

The cliffs at Salcombe Hill are part of a spectacular stretch of coastline and are popular with walkers and day-trippers. They are about 200 feet high and have recently been slippery after heavy rainfall. Beaches beneath the cliffs have often been closed because of the danger of rock falls from the cliffs and landslips.

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