Consultant jailed for not giving evidence at inquest of mentally-ill girl

A disgraced residential care home consultant has been jailed for four months for failing to give evidence at the inquest of a mentally-ill teenager in a landmark case.

Duncan Lawrence, 60, repeatedly refused to answer questions about the new regime he ushered in at Lancaster Lodge in Richmond, south-west London, following the death of 19-year-old Sophie Bennett in May 2016 amid accusations he had transformed it into a “boot camp” before she died.

Lawrence, of Sydenham in south-east London, refused to engage with Ms Bennett’s inquest, held earlier this year, prompting the coroner to later fine him £650.

But he was subsequently charged with intentionally withholding evidence of documentation in relation to a coroner’s inquest, the first case of its kind in England and Wales.

Duncan Lawrence court case
Sophie Bennett

Sentencing him at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, district judge Andrew Sweet said: “There is a good reason why people should attend or provide documents to a coroner when carrying out such an inquest, and that is expected to be done with full co-operation and without delay.

“You frustrated that process.”

Lawrence, who was unrepresented at court, apologised to the family, but said the charge was “nothing to do” with him, and was “all down to a big misunderstanding”.

He showed no emotion as sentence was passed.

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