A 33-YEAR-OLD man was found dead in a pub toilet, less than eight hours after he absconded from a secure mental health ward, an inquest heard.
Ten members of a jury and East Lancashire coroner Mr Michael Singleton, who presided over the inquest at Ribble Valley Council chamber, heard how Mark Coffey was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He was found collapsed in the toilets of the Lord Nelson Hotel from a suspected heroin overdose on the evening of April 8th. Paramedics were called, but he was pronounced dead.
The two-day inquest heard how Mr Coffey, a former refuse collector, had been detained under the Mental Health Act and was an in-patient on Ward 18 at Burnley General Hospital. On December 31st, 2010, he was transferred to Royal Blackburn Hospital after absconding from the ward four times.
During his stay in Blackburn, he was under the care of consultant Dr Paul Reed, who conducted regular assessments on the patient. Mr Coffey was also on the waiting list to be transferred to the Guild Lodge Unit, a secure mental health service in Preston.
However, on the afternoon of April 8th, Mr Coffey told nurse Andrew Shepherd he wanted to withdraw money from his savings and they made their way to the patient finance office.
He then asked to go to the toilet while Mr Shepherd went into the office to fill out paperwork. When Mr Coffey did not return, Mr Shepherd alerted ward managers and the police.
Mr Shepherd told the inquest: “Earlier that day, Mark had undergone a ward review with his consultant and, because of his previous history of absconsion, it was decided Mark was not a suitable candidate for outside leave. Mark was frustrated because of this and left the meeting. As the day progressed, he became angry and frustrated.
“When he failed to return from the toilets, I began searching for him and a member of the public in the reception area confirmed they had spotted a man of Mark’s description running across the car park.”
Mr Shepherd added: “I understand Mark was an absconsion risk, but the risk of self-harm was very small.”
The jury heard how after running away from hospital, Mr Coffey bumped into old friends Kirsty Holt and Nasser Sharaf in Nelson town centre and told them he had “done a runner” from hospital. Ms Holt said: “Nasser and I hadn’t seen Mark for a while so when we saw him in Nelson we went up to talk to him. He looked really well and healthy. He said he just wanted to have a good night out.
“I invited him back to our house, but warned him I did not want any use of drugs in the house. He didn’t have any drugs on him, but did have a bag of needles which he threw away.
“Later that evening, the three of us ended up at the Lord Nelson Hotel and about 9-30 p.m. he suddenly disappeared. We thought he left the pub and decided to return to hospital. An hour later, he was found dead in the gents toilets.”
Ms Holt added: “Mark had remained in our company all day. He did not have any drugs on him. I cannot understand where he got the bag of heroin from.”
David Greaves, a fellow drinker at the pub, discovered Mr Coffey’s body lying behind the door of a cubicle in the gents toilet. He appeared to have a syringe in his right calf. Police and paramedics were called at 10-45 p.m., but Mr Coffey was pronounced dead at the scene. He was found with a small plastic bag containing sterile wipes and heroin.
Mr Singleton recorded a narrative verdict.