At 29, David Reynolds was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He managed his condition with the help of a NHS mental health team. Seven years later, however, he deteriorated and began hearing voices ordering him to kill himself. His care coordinator contacted the psychiatric unit at the hospital, but there were no beds available. Instead, he was placed in a Council run intensive support unit for voluntary patients. Although not formally monitored, staff checked regularly on patients, and cameras surrounded the building so that if a patient leaves, they were alerted.
David’s assessment at the Unit found he wasn’t high risk, so he was admitted to the Unit as a voluntary in-patient. Once he resumed medication, his psychotic symptoms began to reduce. David was allocated a room on the sixth floor.
One evening he appeared withdrawn over dinner. He was due his medication at 10.45pm, but at 10.30pm he fell to his death from his window.
His inquest recorded an open verdict (not suicide), and there was an internal NHS investigation.
Mrs. Reynolds issued an action for damages arguing the NHS Trust and the Council had failed, among other things, to ensure appropriate placement for her son, or adequately assess his suicide risk. However, because Mrs.Reynolds wasn’t financially dependent upon David, no legal recompense was available. And because he had been a voluntary resident, the death could not amount to a breach of the right to life. In effect: not only had Mrs.Reynolds lost her son, but she had no way to get justice against the negligent public body.
After having her case struck out, Mrs.Reynolds took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing she had been denied the right to effective remedy. The Court agreed: UK law didn’t allow proper redress. Mrs.Reynolds won compensation for the distress she had suffered, and justice for her son.