Inquest into deaths of Barrett Centre young people begins

Today was the first day of the inquest into the tragic deaths of Talieha Nebauer, Will Fowell and Caitlin Wilkinson Whiticker.

Being overseen by Deputy State Coroner John Lock, the entire process is scheduled to run across a number of weeks, with a number of the parties (i.e. individuals, groups, government bodies etc.) directly involved in the Barrett Adolescent Centre Commission of Inquiry (BACCOI) also represented at these proceedings (in some cases by the same legal counsel). Each young person’s situation will be scrutinised over several days before a final procedure where the collective issues will be examined so as to address the need to consider “opportunities to improve management of the risk of suicide“, as noted in the prioritised issues listed on the Inquest Schedule.

It has been a long and difficult wait for the families who lost young people more than four years ago. Many of the others involved – politicians, those involved in professional roles etc. – have been able to go on with their lives since the days in 2014 when those close to Talieha, Will and Caitlin were forced to face an existence without those they loved. And then again then since the procedure and conclusion of the BACCOI. But since the COI took a clear position to not encroach on any areas that could relate to an inquest – those being in the Coroner’s jurisdiction – Justice Margaret Wilson was not in a position to provide families with the answers they have needed. In fact, due to the time constraints of the COI, it was deemed necessary to ‘draw a line in the sand’ as regards a timeframe for consideration of consequences of the closure:

“This temporal limitation meant that the Commission’s factual inquiry started at the beginning of the transition and ended around one month after the transition client’s discharge from the BAC. The Commission’s terms of reference, and its factual inquiry, do not extend to a consideration of the following matters:

  • the immediate cause or root causes of the deaths of the three young people who died in 2014 who had formerly been patients of the BAC
  • whether those deaths were caused by or contributed to or affected by the closure of the BAC in early 2014
  • whether those deaths were caused by or contributed to or affected by the transition arrangements or the adequacy of care provided by the various receiving services.

Those are matters for the Coroner.”

Barrett Adolescent Centre Commission of Inquiry Report
p 385 of printed document, p 398 of pdf (
Click here to access)

This earlier post may provide more clarity on the relation of the findings of the COI to the coronial inquest. But it is clear that the Coroner’s office, in holding a combined inquest procedure for the three young people, has determined that the closure of the Barrett Centre must be examined as a factor in the deaths as, tragically, that is the key event that links all three.

This will be an extremely challenging process for those who have been emotionally affected by the losses of Talieha, Will and Caitlin and by the closure of the Barrett Centre. To relive trauma numerous times is a debilitating experience and to have to do so in a formal legal arena where events, accounts and perspectives will be questioned by those defending the positions of other individuals and groups will be gruelling.

It is rare to find anyone in our communities these days who has not been impacted by mental health issues in some way so we know that many people will be feeling for those whose lives have been changed dramatically because of severe and complex mental health issues in adolesence. And particularly now for those who lost three treasured young people. So perhaps, as the news reports are filed and the lawyers quoted, we should all keep in mind that this inquest is about 

TALIEHA

WILL

and 

CAITLIN

There are many people who have never, and will never, forget them.

So may this process provide the answers that these three deserve.


Note: Coverage by the ABC Radio’s ‘The World Today’ program can be listened to by clicking here.

All reporting on this and on other issues related to severe and complex mental youth health can be found on our In the Media‘ page.

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