Family of woman found ‘mummified’ say privacy laws kept them in the dark | Mental health
The family of a severely mentally ill woman who lay dead and undiscovered in her apartment for more than three years said they couldn’t have any contact with her due to privacy laws.
Laura Winham, 38, had schizophrenia, struggled to care for herself, and had become estranged from her family, who she thought were trying to harm her.
Police and family members found her in a “mummified, almost skeletal state” in her social housing flat in Woking, Surrey, in May 2021, but she is believed to have died in November 2017.
The markings on her calendar stopped shortly after the words: “I need help” were written.
Winham’s body lay intact, and no determined efforts were made to establish his well-being., even though his disability benefits were suspended and his gas was turned off. He also did not respond to letters, phone calls, text messages or answer the door.
His family said welfare and care services failed to act on clear signs that Winham’s health was deteriorating in the months and years leading up to his death and failed to carry out the routine checks that would have led to the discovery of his body.
Although the family believed Winham had a care plan, they said they were unable to obtain information due to privacy laws.
“She didn’t want contact with us,” her sister Nicky told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. “She refused the mental health team contact with her family, which she was allowed to do, which prevented the doctors from talking to us. or with hospitals.
“Laura thought we would hurt her. She believed that from the beginning she was probably sectioned off until she died, and that made it extremely difficult for us to keep in touch with her.
“And we tried. In the end, we had no personal contact, but we did send letters, cards and text messages, but the relationship over the years became extremely strained.”
She added that the family “didn’t know how sick she had gotten at the end.”
We would have done anything for her. We know what it looks like: it seems that we did not care for her, and yes, ”she said.
Winham attended school and college and grew up in a loving family, her siblings said.
But she developed mental health problems and did not return home after the first time she was sectioned in 2006.
The family said they made the “very difficult decision” to limit their contact with her as it put her under “tremendous stress”.
When her father fell ill, they tried again to get in touch, but to no avail.
When he died, they continued to visit his apartment.
Winham’s brother Roy recalled how he discovered her body.
He said they were about to leave when he decided to check once more. She looked through the mailbox and saw her sister.
“When I looked through the mailbox, it looked like there were blankets in there, but when I looked down I thought I saw a foot,” he said.
After getting a better angle through the mailbox, he said “you could see the face, the body…”
He told the ambulance service that he thought she had been “dead for a while”.
He added: “Maybe it was meant to be that I found her, I don’t know, but something made me come back upstairs that day. But unfortunately, it left me with something that haunted me for a long time.”
The family said they are talking to try to prevent similar cases.
Nicky had previously said: “We always hoped that he would improve with professional help and that one day our contact would resume.
“We never believed for a second that we would end up finding her dead in her flat after being there for so long without anyone knowing.
“We are sharing our story because we don’t want any other family to suffer this way.”
Winham’s mother, Marilyn, said: “We didn’t think it would be real. We never thought we would find her like this. You would never think someone would be there for that long.”
The family said it was “beyond belief” what had happened.
Nicky said they wanted to know “how this happened” and how his sister had “slipped through the net”.
His mother added: “And also why he stayed so long.”
A pre-investigation review will take place on Monday.
A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: “This is a truly tragic case and our condolences and deepest sympathies go out to Laura’s family and friends. It is important that all aspects of this complex case be reviewed and we are committed to participating fully in the investigative process. This will include providing any information that is necessary to support the coroner’s investigations.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “This is a tragic case and our deepest condolences go out to Ms Winham’s family.”