Coroner probes Alma suicide

Photo Placeby CARMELO AMALFI

WA Coroner Alistair Hope is close to wrapping up an investigation into a spate of suicide deaths at the Alma Street psychiatric clinic.

His investigators are looking for “common elements” in the deaths of five mental health patients in 2011 and 2012 before he decides whether to hold a full public inquest.

Mr Hope launched the investigation late last year after being contacted by families unhappy with the outcome of an earlier review into their loved ones’ deaths by WA chief psychiatrist Rowan Davidson.

Files and statements from nursing staff who have left Fremantle Hospital since the deaths form part of the enquiries.

The five cases include three in 2011; Ruby Nicholls-Diver, 18, Carly Elliott, 20, and Michael Thomas, 56; and two in 2012; Anthony Edwards, 26, and Kim Smee, 47.

The 2011 deaths had been reviewed by Dr Davidson, but his report into four suicides—including Clayton Robinson, 27, who died on April 30, 2011—was rejected by families.

The two suicides last year were not included in Dr Davidson’s review, whose mandated timeframe from the Barnett government also missed the November 2011 suicide of father-of-four Neil Marcial, 34.

The inquiry comes as the coroner’s office also investigates the deaths of nine people at Graylands hospital since 2007.

Another inquest begins next month into the 2008 suicide death of 39-year-old mother-of-four Erin Berg, whose family plans to sue the WA health department for allowing her to leave the country unimpeded. She went on to kill herself in Mexico.

In a letter to Carly Elliott’s father Vince in August last year, WA coroner Alistair Hope says his office would investigate the Alma Street deaths to, “determine whether there are common features which could form the basis of a single inquiry”.

On September 14, 2012, Mr Hope wrote to Labor mental health shadow Ljiljanna Ravlich to confirm his office was investigating the Alma Street deaths, “with a view to possibly holding a public multiple death inquest”.

Mr Hope said police files into three 2011 suicides had been forwarded to him, but “unfortunately those files do not contain enough reports or statements to enable an inquest to be conducted”.

“I have taken steps to ensure that this matter is attended to,” he said.

The Herald understands Mr Hope is close to wrapping up its investigation, with at least seven clinicians still to be interviewed. Staff had been given until mid-December to submit statements about the treatment and care of the five Alma Street patients.

Families hope a public inquiry will compel staff to give statements and evidence about their loved ones’ deaths.

“The coroner’s office is talking to clinicians who were not part of Dr Davidson’s review,” Mr Elliott says. He’d contacted Mr Hope, dissatisfied with the outcome of Dr Davidson’s review.

“He wrote back to me saying he was looking into a number of deaths at Fremantle hospital and was thinking about combining cases, it wasn’t specific to Carly,” Mr Elliott says.

Ruby Nicholls-Diver’s father, Geoff, also welcomed the coronial inquiry. The Marcial and Edwards families, whose sons are not included in the five cases, say they have not heard from the coroner.

The Thomas and Robinson families could not be contacted and Mr Smee had no next of kin when he was buried on November 13, 2012.

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