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Robert Cox and the care of vulnerable adults

The mother of a man fatally stabbed while at a hostel for people with mental health problems has spoken of her disappointment in his care and said ‘there needs to be a joined up approach to care of vulnerable adults.’

Robert Cox, 24, was stabbed to death at a hostel in Bishopston, Bristol, by 42-year-old Derek Hancock in August 2013.

Hancock, who suffered from paranoia and delusional behaviour, was jailed in 2014 after pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, but Robert Cox’s family has been fighting for an inquest to examine how it was allowed to happen.

An inquest jury at Avon Coroners’ Court concluded yesterday that Hancock’s mental health problems ‘were not recognised or understood’ before the stabbing at the hostel run by the Home Group.

Hancock had previously made allegations that Mr Cox had sexually assaulted  and harassed him but the claims were found to be untrue. On the night of the attack, Hancock called Avon and Somerset Police three times to complain about Mr Cox.

The full statement from Robert Cox’s family reads: “Robert was a much loved son, brother, uncle, cousin and father to two children who adored him.

“His family would like to thank the Avon and Somerset Police, who have been open and forthright about their involvement on the night, and the positive steps they have taken to improve their service, also the jury for their input over the 10 days and their perceptive and intelligent narrative conclusion.

“The family is disappointed that Home Group who were responsible for the safe care of Robert and Mr Hancock did not, in our opinion, keep either of them safe. Their lack of transparency during the inquest and failure to retain records at the time is a concern. The Avon and Wiltshire Partnership who were responsible for mental health patients in Bristol let Mr Hancock down and in turn let Robert down.

“The Avon Senior Coroner’s decision to narrow the scope of the inquest and withhold important evidence has meant that an opportunity to learn lessons has been lost. Prior to the inquest an investigation took place and the Serious Case Review was deemed not fit for purpose.

“The lack of care of both men, leading to Robert’s death, has highlighted failings where there is multi agency care. There needs to be a joined up approach to care of vulnerable adults and unlike the coroner, we believe, there is more work to be done to prevent future deaths.

“Finally, we would like to thank Robert’s legal team at Clarke Willmott and Ms Gollop who were diligent in their task and all our family and friends who have supported us over the last four years.”

The jury’s ruling of unlawful killing included the following contributing factors:

  • A delay in diagnosis and treatment of delusional thinking.
  • A lack of standardised procedures in ensuring accurate recording and sharing of information between relevant services.
  • Interactions with police and call handlers along with an absence of onsite support are likely to have exacerbated the situation.

Marguarita Tyne, partner in our Bristol office and clinical negligence specialist, said: “This was a very complicated case with multiple agencies involved in the care and assessment of both men needing to be looked at. It’s been a battle to reach this conclusion after four years and it has been an incredibly hard process for the family.

“We are pleased that some lessons have been learnt from the case and hope our representation of the family at the inquest and the determined approach of our Counsel Katie Gollop QC has made the process slightly easier for them.”