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The Dorset Echo
11:16am Nov 29, 2007
YOUNG James Lowe was in such torment after months of self-harm that he hanged himself in the family garden, an inquest heard.
Coroner Michael Johnston said it was one of the most emotional inquests he had held for years – raising a lot more questions than answers.
He said he knew little about self-harming and he had been on a steep learning curve.
He took the unique step of asking James’s mother whether she wanted him to record a verdict of suicide while James was suffering from a personality disorder.
“Because I don’t think it was your James that did this – I think it was the other one,” he said.
James was found hanging from a tree in the garden in Watton, near Bridport, and police found ‘Satan’, ‘blood’, ‘death’ ‘hatred’ and many other similar words carved into his chest of drawers and a note mentioning a band called Sigur Rós and a track called Hoppipolla.
James’ mother Angela Franklin told the inquest James, 18, had become depr-essed and started to harm himself around April this year.
Then followed months of torment and James was cutting himself more and more, she said. “It is a very difficult thing to try and understand,” she said. “I want to know why this happened to my son.”
The inquest heard James told the hospital he had started hurting himself when he was 10, but Mrs Franklin said that just was not the case.
She said: “I used to bath him and we had a swimming pool.
“There were no marks on him and I was never aware of him self-harming before April this year. I think my son was extremely confused.”
Mr Johnston said notes from the hospital indicated that a lot of his self-harming incidents happened after he had been drinking.
Mrs Franklin said she was controlling the amount he drank and gave James no access to money to buy his own.
“He did get drunk early on and I think it certainly didn’t help. I don’t think alcohol caused him to self-harm.
“Whatever my son was going through he couldn’t cope with and alcohol was something he thought would make him feel better.”
Then in early August James was arrested under the mental health act after going into a house in Gundry Lane in Bridport without permission.
He was being held down by members of the public, said PC Stuart White.
“He was very volatile and violent, kicking and struggling, and he was very angry and extremely abusive,” said PC White.
James was detained for his own safety, but it had been very difficult to restrain him, said PC White. He was recommended for assessment at the Forston Clinic but was too violent and too drunk to go there, the inquest heard.
He was kept under constant observation in a police cell and taken home in the morning because he was due to see one of his own mental health team.
Psychiatrist Dr Ian Rodin said James felt very unhappy and isolated, particularly from his friends: “Our conclusions were that James was developing a condition known as unemotionally unstable personality disorder, which is in a different category to mental illness.”
Dr Johnston asked if there was any trigger factor in the personality disorder, but Dr Rodin said in James’s case they had not found anything.
Dr Rodin said he and his colleagues were concerned with the course James’s problems were taking and discussed hospitalisation.
This was something James did not want to do and with his form of personality disorder forcibly detaining him would be counter-productive because his feelings of anger would be directed at those trying to help him, said Dr Rodin.
Dr Rodin said dialectic behaviour therapy was something that might have helped James but it involved the patient being very committed to the therapy, which James was not, and which could take up to three years to work.
He said 50 per cent of people undertaking the psychotherapy dropped out and of those that remained only about two-thirds were helped.
James was taking anti- depressant and anti-psychotic drugs and both were found in the bloodstream, as was alcohol, on the day of his death.
Dr Rodin said he had decreased James’s medication as there was some evidence using anti-depressants in younger people actually increased their suicidal thoughts.
“That was the reason for putting the dose down,” he said.
“I wanted to make sure the medication I was prescribing was not actually making his condition worse, which can sometimes be the case.”
Dr Rodin saw James three days before his death and thought he was better than he had ever seen him before.
He said he was shocked to hear he had committed suicide.
“He had a condition we just don’t have a good treatment for.
“To have to watch someone going downhill in that way and to think this is just getting worse and there is nothing we can do and none of our treatments are likely to do any good is an awful feeling.”
Mr Johnston said the inquest raised questions there never would be answers for.
He said Mrs Franklin had suffered beyond every parent’s worst nightmare when she could see her son changing and damaging himself in a way far beyond what was common.
“To watch that must have been frightful. I can also understand your despair and I suspect your fury at not being able to find anybody who could properly help you.”
He said he did not know why James started on the course he did but he apparently had two problems – self-harming and thoughts of suicide – and those suicidal thoughts were often relieved by his self-harming.
Mr Johnston said: “His note, while not classic, indicated he knew he was going to die and I think the only verdict correct to record is that James took his own life.”
Anguished mum’s battle for justice for her James
ANGELA Franklin has decided to tell the tragic story of her son’s last few months in the hopes that no other family will have to go through what hers has. She believes the system let James down and his death was a senseless waste. She has enlisted West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin in her campaign and is talking to a solicitor. What she has to say is harrowing and readers may find her story disturbing.
JAMES Lowe was a perfectly normal 18-year-old.
He was passionate about music and was two years into a music course at Weymouth College where his tutors predicted his talent as a guitarist would see him make a fine musician.
Then in April he seemed to become enveloped in a cloud of depression and there began nearly five months of torture – for him, his mother, his family and his friends.
He began to self-harm – something the social workers at Bridport’s Hughes Unit told his mother was common and very addictive and crucially would not be helped by being sectioned under the mental health act as she wanted.
But James, from Watton Cottages, near Bridport, took self-harm so beyond the common that his mother barely slept for five months fearing that he could bleed to death if she did not find him in time.
His cuts were so severe one needed 11 stitches, another an operation to mend a severed tendon, he cut his legs so badly he could hardly walk and he was in Dorset County Hospital’s accident and emergency unit at least twice a week.
Mrs Franklin said: “My son wasn’t just crying out for help, he was yelling, but nobody was listening. He said he was two people and he started to have strange dreams.
“In June he had to have an operation to repair tendons. There was blood all over the house, all over the walls, the ceiling and he’d written words, words of despair, in blood all over the walls but he hardly remembered any of it.
“The police came once and they thought someone had been murdered there was so much blood. They said this is a disturbed young man. I was so afraid he would bleed to death. I locked up the knives, but he always found something.
“We were going into hospital twice a week in an ambulance. I can’t understand why no one ever said ‘this isn’t right, we must do something’, but they just stitched him up and sent him out of the door.
“I wanted him sectioned under the mental health act but I was told self-harming was very common and very addictive and they didn’t admit self-harmers as it was non-productive. But his was not normal behaviour.
“I just couldn’t get anyone to do anything or listen to me.”
In an ironic turn the police did arrest him under the Mental Health Act one night and said he would have to go to Forston Clinic for an assessment.
“I said ‘thank God, at last’, but they said he’d had a drink and they couldn’t do it and sent him home.”
So Angela’s vigilance continued, and even though she got adept at reading the signs when James would cut himself she could not stop him doing it – just keep mopping up the blood and calling the ambulance.
Then the family had a glimmer of hope when James went three weeks without cutting himself.
“Then on the morning of August 17, I drew my curtains and saw my son hanging from the apple tree. I ran down the garden with some scissors to cut him down but he’d been there six hours.
“What he was doing was not self-harming, it was suicidal. For five months it was like walking on glass – literally – then you’d hear a sudden scream ‘mum’ from James and you’d find him with blood pouring out of his arm like a hose.
“We just don’t understand what happened to him. On August 16 he seemed OK, he had a new job he liked, he was happy, we had a nice dinner and he was talking to his girlfriend on the computer.
“I just feel I have to say I feel completely let down by the system. My son should not have died. My son has missed out on his life. He had a good home, a loving family.”
Mrs Franklin said offering James 20-minute counselling sessions and double dose anti-depressants was not enough.
“They say now they believe he was suicidal and also say they could not steer him away from the path to self-destruction and there was nothing they could do to treat him.
“I asked one social worker if she had seen James’s legs, but she just said she hardly thought it appropriate to ask James to drop his trousers. She sounded so blasé, but I thought it was important for them to actually see what he was doing. They said they’d read the reports.
“If they did believe he was suicidal as they are now saying, why didn’t they do something to help? When he died one of the team rang and said was there anything they could do. I said ‘It’s too late now, I begged you’ and the man said ‘yes, you did’.
“If you have a physical illness you get treated, but my son didn’t. He was in terrible torment. I wanted them to keep him somewhere safe until we could get him better.
“I have a life sentence and my other children have too. The whole family has been wrecked by this.
“I did everything I could to get help for him, it was like one of those nightmares when you can’t move, it was like trying to stop a runaway train. It was all so out of control and I couldn’t stop it.
“How do you accept something like this? You can’t. You just have to try and learn to live with it.
“He was not going to be cured overnight, I know that, but he didn’t ever have a chance.”
Mrs Franklin has involved MP Oliver Letwin to try and make sure this cannot happen again and destroy another family.
“I want the whole country to know about James. I can’t let this go. I know nothing will bring him back, but I want justice for James.”