Regulator criticises charity for exposing residents to 'significant avoidable harm' after teenager's death

The Charity Commission opened an inquiry into the Richmond Psychosocial Foundation International following the suicide of 19-year-old Sophie Bennett

Lancaster Lodge

The Charity Commission has strongly criticised the former trustees of a mental health charity after a teenager took her own life at one of its homes. 

Sophie Bennett, who was 19 and had  been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, social anxiety disorder and atypical autism, died in 2016 while she was at Lancaster Lodge, a home in Richmond, south-west London, which was run by the Richmond Psychosocial Foundation International.

The charity and Peggy Jhugroo, former manager of Lancaster Lodge, were earlier this year fined £40,000 and £3,000 respectively for their failure to provide safe care and treatment to Bennett. 

In an inquiry report published today, the Charity Commission said that former RPFI trustees exposed residents to “significant avoidable harm”. 

The report says the three former trustees, Geoffrey Benton, Jonathan Manson and Catherine Keevil, were found to have mismanaged the charity and in 2016 oversaw “abrupt changes” at Lancaster Lodge, including replacing experienced, qualified staff with unqualified people and removing residents’ access to external therapies. 

The report says the changes were chaotic and resulted in a deterioration of care for residents. 

The commission concluded that the former trustees failed to provide leadership and oversight of the charity, failed to comply with the law, meaning service users were exposed to “significant avoidable harm”, which contributed to Bennett’s death, and were over-reliant on Benton, who acted in breach of good governance requirements. 

The regulator said the former trustees also failed to file annual accounts on time and said there were concerns about the management of the charity’s banking services, which “potentially placed the charity’s funds at undue risk”. 

The regulator said Manson and Keevil had agreed not to act as charity trustees or senior managers for 12 years and five years respectively. Benton died in February. 

The commission said a new board had been put in place at RPFI and trustees had worked to significantly strengthen governance processes to ensure safeguarding policies were followed and service users were protected. 

Lancaster Lodge closed in 2017, but the charity runs another home nearby. 

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “Sophie Bennett's death is a tragedy and the circumstances surrounding it remain deeply distressing. 

"Our findings are serious, and sobering: the former trustees of RPFI presided over decisions that, in a matter of months, turned a home rated ‘good’ by CQC into one in which residents were unsafe.

“No official inquiry can turn back the clock and change what happened in 2016. But we can and must ensure lessons are learnt from this case. 

“We urge trustees of charities that care for vulnerable people, like Sophie, to consider the findings of this inquiry, and to examine their own systems, structures, and indeed the expertise and competence of their board collectively to ensure they meet their legal duties."

The charity did not respond to a request for comment. 

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