Teacher was ‘failed by health service’

rossparry.co.uk/syndication'Picture shows school teacher David Charlesworth who set himself on fire and later died at Rossett School Harrogate
rossparry.co.uk/syndication'Picture shows school teacher David Charlesworth who set himself on fire and later died at Rossett School Harrogate

A SCHOOLTEACHER who took his own life was seriously let down by Harrogate’s mental health services, a coroner said this week.

David Charlesworth, a science teacher at Rossett School and father of two children under five, was referred for specialist mental health care in March last year.

By May 11 he had still not been contacted by the service. That night, he set himself on fire in the school car park, dying from his injuries in the early hours of the next morning.

Recording a verdict of suicide, Coroner Geoff Fell told an inquest into Mr Charlesworth’s death on Wednesday that he had “severe concerns about the way this was handled”. Care, he said, fell “far short” of what was acceptable.

A report on the incident by North Yorkshire and York PCT concluded the lack of communication played no part in Mr Charlesworth’s death and a spokesman said a six to eight week wait for assessment was not unusual.

The report said the cognititive behavioural therapy (CBT) Mr Charlesworth had been referred for was not a “short-term cure” and would have been unlikely to impact on Mr Charlesworth’s subsequent actions.

Mr Fell rejected the report as being based on “speculation” and “conjecture” adding: “You never even met him!”

He said: “I am of the opinion that the mental health trust fell far short of what I expect, what the GP expected and what we know David expected of them.”

“I will be writing to the chief executive of the mental health trust [North Yorkshire and York PCT] expressing my severe concerns about the way this was handled.”

After setting himself on fire, Mr Charlesworth managed to get home and was taken by ambulance first to Harrogate Hospital before being moved to the specialist burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.

David’s wife, Jennifer Charlesworth, told the inquest, sitting at Harrogate Magistrate’s Court, her husband had spoken to her before he died, and tried to explain his actions.

“In the emergency room he said that he felt stuck,” she said. “He said that he just felt an enormous amount of pressure and he couldn’t find a way out.”

Mrs Charlesworth said in the week before her husband’s death he had told her and his doctor he had considered how he would take his own life.

Mr Charlesworth, who had a history of depression, was treated by his GP, Dr Alan Cunningham, in 2009, 2010 and again in March 2011 when he asked to be referred for CBT.

Dr Cunningham told the court he believed CBT would have helped his patient and that it was “unfortunate” the trust hadn’t made contact with him, suggesting that contact alone may have lifted Mr Charlesworth’s spirits.

He also said Mr Charlesworth had identified the cause of his anxiety as his work and particularly periods at the beginning of the year when workloads peaked, but that he struggled to distance himself because of the sense of responsibility he felt towards the students in his care.

Rossett Headteacher Pat Hunter, told the hearing Mr Charlesworth was a “fantastic teacher” but that he set himself “very high standards”.

“He never wanted to let anyone down, particularly the students. I think some of it was self-imposed anxiety.”

She said while the school made efforts to support Mr Charlesworth, including phased returns to work after absence, and reduced workloads, he was strong-willed and dedicated to his job and his pupils, often volunteering for the very work he knew was causing him stress.

Reflecting on how he saw strength in others, Mrs Charlesworth, who called her husband strong and caring, said: “He was quite tenacious. It was a quality that in the end seemed to turn against him.”