Criminal proceedings against a regional mental health trust following the deaths of three people while under its care have been delayed. 

Officials from the Tees, Esk and Wear Valley (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust appeared before Teesside Magistrates’ Court today (Wednesday, May 17) to respond to three alleged breaches of the Health and Social Care Act and what it alleges was “avoidable harm”.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is prosecuting the trust in relation to the treatment teenagers Christie Harnett and Emily Moore received between 2019 and 2020. A third charge in relation to a third person, named as ‘X’ for legal reasons, is also alleged. 

Christie, 17, of Newton Aycliffe, had been receiving treatment at West Lane Hospital in Middlesbrough when she took her own life on June 27, 2019. Emily, 18, from Shildon, had been an inpatient at the same hospital until July 2019, before moving to Lanchester Road, Durham in February 2020 but took her own life one week later. 

The court heard the charges relating to Emily are due to be heard in a trial, suggesting they could plead not guilty - those relating to Christine and patient X are unclear, though the trust did acknowledge the charges are “well founded”. No pleas were entered today. 

The much-anticipated hearing came nearly four years after the death of Christie - however, TEWV moved to distance itself from the blame for the delay.

Paul Greaney, defence lawyer for the trust, told the court: “The sense that seems to exist that the trust is to blame for that is entirely misplaced. We know there have been suggestions that the trust is dragging its heels - that is not the position.”

The Northern Echo: The dad's of Emily and Christie have protested about ‘failures’ they believe cost their daughters’ lives.The dad's of Emily and Christie have protested about ‘failures’ they believe cost their daughters’ lives. (Image: The Northern Echo)

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In June last year, the CQC confirmed its intention to prosecute the trust in regard to the care provided to Christie before her death, but in February it confirmed its prosecution now covers three patient deaths. Mr Greaney argued this has meant the trust has not had enough time to review the full charges and should be given more time. 

The families of Emily and Christie attended the hearing as well as the trust’s CEO Brent Kilmurray.

Mr Greaney added: “The intention of the trust is to be open with the court, family and public. The trust is committed to acknowledging failures where they occurred and learning lessons.”

An appeal by the trust to adjourn proceedings until September 26 was approved by the judge.