Published: 16 April 2010
by RÓISÍN GADELRAB
THE devastated parents of an autistic man who died of heart failure while in a care home have welcomed a coroner’s decision to order a police inquiry into his case.
The Tribune reported in February how Keith and Jennifer Horne-Roberts, from Archway, were calling for an investigation into the death of their 20-year-old son Harry, which they believe was a result of anti-psychotic drugs he should never have been prescribed.
They say that the talented artist, who died in December, was never tested for his suitability to be given the drug. Although he did not have the capacity to approve his medication, his parents claim they were never informed that he had been prescribed chlorpromazine (CPZ).
An independent report conducted on behalf of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, published last week, supports some of their claims.
Mrs Horne-Roberts passed the report, including her own witness statement, to north London coroner Andrew Walker last week.
On Monday, Mr Walker told Harry’s parents he has referred the case to Tottenham CID. The trust maintains there’s no proof that CPZ contributed to Harry’s death.
Mrs Horne-Roberts, a barrister, said: “He was put on these dangerous drugs. The report said Harry should have been tested and he wasn’t. Harry didn’t have the capacity to consent and so we should have been consulted.”
She added: “These drugs cause heart failure and sudden death and that’s what happened to Harry. We’re absolutely horrified about what’s happened.
“We understand his condition. It was anxiety but doctors treated it as psychosis. Harry was overweight, he was 20 stone. It was particularly dangerous to give a drug that could cause heart failure. It’s a chemical cosh. We want justice for Harry but also to ensure other autistic people aren’t treated like this.”
She said that under the Mental Capacity Act of 2005 guardians should be informed of treatment where a person did not have the capacity to consent.
Mr Horne-Roberts said his son had built up a collection of art, adding: The tragedy is that there won’t be any more. They are quite an opus.” His wife added: “He was such a lovable, talented boy, very sweet-natured. He was a brilliant boy who had been so terribly injured. It was a devastating loss for us. It will never get any better.”
His parents say Harry developed autism after having a bad reaction to an MMR jab at the age of one.
A former pupil at The Bridge School in Holloway, he lived with his parents in Cheverton Road until he was 18, when he moved to supported accommodation at Hillgreen Care Home in Tottenham.
It was while he was staying there that he was prescribed CPZ.
Mrs Horne-Roberts said: “He was very difficult to bring up. When he was 18 we couldn’t really keep him safe. We thought if he went into supported accommodation – where they had a 10-strong team – they would keep him safe.
“We were preparing him for the future, for one day when we may not be here. We would take him out four or five times a week. He was rather a compulsive eater because he knew he was autistic. He would ask us: ‘What’s wrong with Harry’s brain?’
“We’re shattered but sometimes you have to carry on. We’ve a daughter, Francesca, who’s 19. We have to put on a brave face.”
The independent report, conducted by Professor Iqbal Singh, said the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs for challenging behaviour was “fairly regular” among psychiatrists but was based on “empirical grounds”.
He said it was not clear why Harry was prescribed CPZ but that it was “effective”.
But, he added, although monitoring before being prescribed such medication is recommended: “There is no documented evidence of any monitoring of physical health in the notes provided.”
Prof Singh concluded: “From the documents provided, I am not sure if Harry Horne-Roberts had the capacity to consent to the medication. However, it appears unlikely.”
Although a coroner initially concluded Harry’s death was due to natural causes, the latest development means a further inquest will have to be held once the police investigation has been concluded.
Steven Thomas, for Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, said: “We are aware that the death of Harry Horne-Roberts has been referred to the Metropolitan Police and will co-operate fully with their investigations.
“We have conducted an internal investigation, and will act on any issues which this identifies. We can find no evidence that chlorpromazine contributed in any way to Harry’s death.”
A spokeswoman for Haringey police said: “I can confirm the case has been referred to the police and we’re trying to establish the facts.”
• Harry’s paintings will be among works shown at an exhibition held by the Hoffman Trust for Autism at Hornsey Library from July 15.