Parents killed themselves after disabled son's death

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The Independent Online

A coroner today said the actions of a mother and father who placed their dead son in a rucksack before leaping from Beachy Head were "entirely understandable" after being left heartbroken by his death.

Neil Puttick, 34, and his Tokyo-born wife Kazumi, 44, were found at the notorious suicide spot in East Sussex along with their quadriplegic five-year-old son Samuel on June 1, three days after he died at home after contracting meningitis.

East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze described them as an "extraordinary and heroic family" after hearing how Mr and Mrs Puttick devoted themselves to caring for Sam at their home in Brokerswood, Westbury, Wilts.

Sam was left wheelchair-bound with a severe spinal cord injury after being involved in a car crash in 2005, forcing him to spend months in intensive care before being allowed home.

It was at home that Sam was discharged to die from Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children in late May this year after being given no chance of survival from pneumococcal meningitis.

Devastated at the loss of their son, Mr Puttick and his wife travelled to Beachy Head in their Volkswagen people carrier, adapted for Sam's wheelchair, before leaping to their deaths.

Mr Craze said: "I have no means of knowing whether they had made plans to join (Sam) in death before his last illness or whether they were driven to that decision by their grief after he died.

"But, either way, their intense care and Sam's total dependency makes it entirely understandable that Neil and Kazumi Puttick took the decision that they did."

Family friend Paul Taylor said in the aftermath of Sam's car accident, Mrs Puttick "did not want him to live" and spoke of the stresses of claiming compensation from the accident.

Mr Taylor, from Gillingham, Dorset, said: "She called my wife on a couple of occasions to say that they had been offered the chance to turn off the life support machine and she had argued for it, while everyone else argued against it."

He added that at times Mr Puttick also found it difficult to cope with Sam's illness, describing one time when he almost broke down in front of him.

Mr Taylor said: "Tears were welling up in his eyes and he said, 'You are the only ones we have got. Please don't go away'."

Mr Craze said it was "an extraordinarily difficult position for them to be thrust into".

Speaking of the decision to allow Sam home to die, Professor Alexander Henderson, of the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children, said it was a "compassionate act" and that, even in hindsight, there were no concerns that his parents would take their own lives.

Prof Henderson said an ambulance took Sam and his parents home in what he described as "peaceful and dignified" last moments for the youngster.

He went on: "We put Sam on a stretcher connected to some devices so the drugs could continue.

"He was lying on the bed with Neil and Kazumi on either side and I switched the drugs off in the expectation that that would lead to Sam dying, and then left them with Sam.

"I went into the garden for approximately 20 minutes. The ventilator continued but Sam showed no other signs of life."

He was certified dead at 8.05pm that evening, the inquest at Uckfield Civic Centre heard.

Describing Mr Puttick's reaction, Prof Henderson said: "His words to me were, 'It's as if someone is trying to break up our happy family' and 'Why is this happening to Sam?'"

He added that he was shocked to later learn of their deaths but he could not think of a "single feature" that caused him anxiety at the time about their state of mind.

Coroner's officer Ali Warner said that when the bodies were found, Sam was dressed in clean clothes, wrapped in a small duvet inside a large rucksack.

Recording verdicts of suicide for both parents, Mr Craze said: "Like everyone else, I'm profoundly saddened by the tragic history of this extraordinary and heroic family.

"I have the greatest admiration for all that Neil and Kazumi did for their son. He was their life and his sudden and cruel death after all he had gone through devastated his parents."

Following the hearing, NHS Bath and North East Somerset said in a statement: "The deaths of Neil and Kazumi Puttick are tragic and has deeply touched many of the staff at NHS Bath and North East Somerset, including those who looked after Sam as part of his care package.

"We offer our sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of the family."