Northern Ireland

James Fenton: Family search 'could have saved patient'

James Fenton Image copyright Fenton family
Image caption James Fenton's body was found on hospital grounds

The mother of a man who died after leaving a mental health ward has said he might have lived had her family been allowed to search for him.

James Fenton agreed to be admitted to the Ulster Hospital in July 2010, aged 22.

But he later climbed over the wall of a smoking area at the hospital.

Police searched the hospital grounds for him and told Mr Fenton's family they believed he was alive and staying with friends.

Officers disciplined

His body was discovered 10 weeks later on the hospital grounds, less than 40m from the ward.

His mother Janice Fenton told his inquest on Monday that her family would have helped in the search for her son if they had known he was missing.

"Maybe we could've saved James," she said.

She also said Mr Fenton's girlfriend had received a text the night he left the ward, saying: "Opt out, ha ha."

News of this text did not emerge for two days.

In 2013 the Police Ombudsman issued a critical report into the search for Mr Fenton and 12 PSNI officers were disciplined.

Cannabis and alcohol

Mrs Fenton told the inquest that Mr Fenton had had serious mental health problems for about 18 months before his death.

She said they had had "confrontations" about his use of cannabis and alcohol.

On certain occasions Mr Fenton had threatened to take his own life and had made some attempts to do so.

During that time he was admitted to hospital for observation on three occasions.

During the inquest proceedings, there was a tense exchange between Ms Fenton and a barrister for the PSNI over the initial search for her son.

She rejected his assertion that the search had been thorough.

"All I know is that nobody should lie for 10 weeks out in the open, an animal wouldn't lie that long," she said.

The barrister said the police had believed Mr Fenton might have gone to nearby Torr Bank school, or further afield to friends in Bangor.

Ms Fenton told the inquest she had felt that once Mr Fenton was admitted to the mental health ward at the Ulster Hospital he would be safe, and would not have been permitted to leave without his family being informed first.

The inquest at Laganside in Belfast is expected to last all week.

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