Suicide couple's despair at death of son

Inquest into death of devoted parents who threw themselves off Beachy Head
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The Independent Online

A couple consumed by grief after sudden illness claimed the life of their paralysed son threw themselves to their deaths after telling a doctor they could not understand why "someone is trying to break up our happy family", an inquest heard yesterday.

Neil and Kazumi Puttick had devoted their lives to caring for five-year-old Sam after a car accident in 2005 – from which he had initially not been expected to survive – left him unable to breath unaided and confined to a wheelchair with a severe spinal cord injury.

The couple gave up their jobs and converted a Wiltshire farmhouse to enable them to offer 24-hour care to their son with live-in helpers. But their battle to provide Sam with a fulfilled life was cut cruelly short in May this year when he contracted pneumococcal meningitis and died after being allowed home from hospital.

Less than 48 hours after their son's death, Neil, 34, and his Tokyo-born wife drove to Beachy Head, the notorious suicide spot near Eastbourne, and jumped to their deaths with Sam's body in a rucksack on his father's back.

Sally Moore, a family friend and the solicitor who acted for the couple in their compensation battle after the car accident, told the inquest at Uckfield in East Sussex that anyone who had known the Putticks was "moved by their fortitude" in the aftermath of the crash.

In a statement, Ms Moore said: "After his death, it would seem that for his adoring parents they took their lives in an act too shocking to contemplate."

Specialist equipment was bought by the couple using money raised by themselves and friends, allowing Sam to attend school and live as normal a life as possible in their specially adapted home near Bristol. Ms Moore said: "Sam would be seen whizzing around the house and garden in his wheelchair."

Sam was admitted to the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children on 27 May with pneumococcal meningitis, a form of the disease with a high fatality rate for young patients. After it became clear the five-year-old would not survive, Professor Alexander Henderson, a consultant paediatrician at the hospital, arranged in consultation with the Putticks for an ambulance to take Sam home to die.

Prof Henderson, who accompanied the family home, said he switched off devices giving drugs to keep Sam alive and went into the garden for 20 minutes to allow his parents to be with him in his final moments. The doctor told the inquest that Mr Puttick's reaction to his son's death was one of "appropriate disbelief". He added: "It was shocking to learn of their deaths, and having gone over the circumstances, I cannot think of a single feature that gave me anxiety at the time."

Paul Taylor, another family friend, said the couple had at times shown signs of the burden they carried following their son's accident. He said Mrs Puttickhad called his wife in the aftermath of the crash to say she had wanted to accept an offer from doctors to turn off Sam's life-support machine and on another occasion had found the process of dealing with insurance companies so hard that "her and Neil wanted to walk off into the sunset".

Recording a verdict of suicide on both parents, East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze said their actions on the evening of 31 June, when they jumped from the 535ft-high cliff, were "entirely understandable" given their intense devotion to their son.