'˜Blaze death Vanessa should have been detained for her own safety' - inquest is told

A coroner has said that detaining Vanessa Lucas-Heathorn days before her death could have provided '˜a safety net', an inquest was told this week.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 16th February 2016, 3:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th February 2016, 3:55 pm

Miss Lucas-Heathorn died after dousing herself in white spirit and setting herself on fire on a patch of land behind Stow Court in Mansfield Woodhouse on June 24 last year.

Days before she admitted trying to take her own life by torching her Valley View home in Mansfield, but she escaped the flames at the last minute by jumping from an upstairs window.

After being arrested for arson, she was described as being ‘candid’ with police officers, telling them she had been trying to kill herself for weeks by not eating or drinking and had taken three overdoses before.

Despite this, she was granted bail by magistrates in Mansfield under the conditions that she remained at her parents’ home.

A mental health crisis team was also asked to look into returning her to Millbrook mental health unit, where she stayed as a voluntary patient weeks before her death.

However, she died a few days later.

During this week’s inquest, Maria Mulrennan, assistant coroner for Nottinghamshire admitted the magistrates had a difficult job in whether to grant her bail.

She said: “One one level it seems very harsh to criminalise her, one can see the dilemma for the bench.

“She clearly had mental health issues and it was a lay bench who made the decision.

“If she had been remanded, there were suggestions that mental health (workers) would have provided a safety net.”

Police officers who had dealt with Ms Lucas-Heathorn at Mansfield Police Station and her own solicitor also expressed surprise that she was granted bail.

Sergeant Rachel Griffiths, a custody sergeant, said: “It was my expectation that Vanessa would be remanded into custody.

“I spent some considerable time with her and she told me how she was feeling. She was totally rational and reasonable but very, very sad.

“She did not seem to have any hope.”

She told another officer that she had lost everything and had nothing left to live for, while duty solicitor Sarah Neale, who represented her at the station and in court said: “She was extremely candid about what she had done and the reasons for it.

“She felt there was no way out.”

Miss Neale told the court that she was instructed to apply for bail, and despite the magistrates having access to the police advice form that highlighted her fragile mental health, it was granted.

Asked if she was surprised that Ms Lucas-Heathorn was granted bail, Miss Neale said: “In these circumstances, I was slightly surprised given the background.”

The inquest was told how Ms Lucas-Heathorn was a mother of two boys, and had worked for Nottingham City Council.

In a statement read out on behalf of her mother, Ann Lucas, who was not present at the inquest, she said her daughter had been diagnosed with M.E which had led to depression and her becoming physically unwell.

She would not leave the house and became ‘obsessive’ about her appearance.

The court was told how Ms Lucas-Heathorn suffered from a delusional disorder and had a distorted image of herself.

Adopted as a youngster, Mrs Lucas said Vanessa had also always struggled to come to terms with being ‘rejected’ by her biological mother.

The inquest continues and is expected to last until Friday.