Grieving Sunderland family’s plea over brother

(Collect picture of) The late David Smith (right), who became mentally ill and whose death remains unexplained after he was found in the River wear. Picture shows David prior to his illness.

(Collect picture of) The late David Smith (right), who became mentally ill and whose death remains unexplained after he was found in the River wear. Picture shows David prior to his illness.

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A GRIEVING family of a man who died while being treated at Cherry Knowle Hospital, say they hope no one else has to go through the pain they’re suffering.

David Smith, who suffered from schizophrenia, disappeared from the Ryhope centre in November 2009, an inquest heard.

His body was found in the River Wear, near the Stadium of Light, and the days leading up to his death are still a mystery.

Mr Smith, whose last address was a hostel in Sunderland, had already absconded from the hospital twice during his four-week stay.

But, because he was not sectioned under the Mental Health Act at the time, doctors could not restrict his movements.

The 40-year-old, who had once slit his own throat and was known to drink and take drugs, was supposed to be checked by staff every 15 minutes.

But the inquest at the Regus Centre heard some of his observation records were missing.

Nurse Graham Neary said at the time it was “quite easy” for patients to climb over fencing at the back of the hospital and that patio doors were left open so patients could have smoking breaks.

Fencing at Cherry Knowle has since been heightened and a new project launched so families can have more input into the care of loved ones.

Mr Smith’s brother William, 42, of Doxford Park, said it was “too little, too late” for David.

However, he added: “It will stop other families going through the pain and anguish that we are going through.

“We don’t want another people to go what we have gone through. It is not right.

“He should not have been within a million miles of the River Wear in the state he was in.

“It is disgusting and it has devastated every member of this family.”

Dr Arun Gupta, who was treating Mr Smith, said staff had to balance treating the patient with respecting their human rights.

He said: “If the patient starts co-operating with the treatment process and wants to stay in the hospital of his own volition, we should not keep the patient under the Mental Health Act.

“It is like walking on a tightrope, trying to build bridges with the patient, to make a therapeutic relationship and keeping them safe.”

Home Office pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton said tests revealed Mr Smith had amphetamine in his system and died of drowning, but there was no evidence of suspicious circumstances.

Coroner Derek Winter noted improvements had been made at the hospital.

Verdict: Open.