Father of private schoolgirl who killed herself challenges coroner’s decision to ignore autism

Jonathan Scott-Lee is demanding answers about the way the inquest into Caitlyn's death was carried out
Jonathan Scott-Lee is demanding answers about the way the inquest into Caitlyn's death was carried out - PA

The father of a schoolgirl who took her own life while at boarding school has challenged a coroner’s decision to exclude details of her autism.

Jonathan Scott-Lee has applied for a High Court judicial review over the coroner’s findings in the case of his daughter, Caitlyn.

The 16-year-old took her own life while at Wycombe Abbey School, in April 2023 after “hyper-fixating” on being given her first “headmistress’s detention”.

A senior coroner for Buckinghamshire recorded a conclusion of suicide last month and found there was nothing “that would have assisted the school in identifying what was tragically to happen”.

Mr Scott-Lee claims the coroner acted unlawfully by failing to sufficiently consider whether his daughter’s autism contributed to her death, and hopes the case could help other families.

In his application for a judicial review, he questioned why the coroner excluded autism expert witnesses from the inquest and restricted media reporting on the subject.

Mr Scott-Lee claimed the coroner “is under a legal duty to act or make decisions in a certain way and has unlawfully refused or failed to do so”.

Mr Scott-Lee also told The Times: “A judicial review is a challenge on the way in which a decision was made, rather than the rights and wrongs of the decision reached, and the autistic community and I, will be grateful for the opinion of a High Court judge.”

Caitlyn Scott-Lee was found dead in the grounds of her school in April 2023
Caitlyn Scott-Lee was found dead in the grounds of her school in April 2023

Caitlyn had been given a detention after a half-empty litre bottle of vodka was found in her locker at the £44,000-a-year school in March 2023. She was referred to mental health services after becoming increasingly anxious about the punishment.

A phone assessment by a mental health nurse weeks before she died did not ask about her autism. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Centre at the Oxford NHS Trust assessed her to be at “low risk” of suicide and offered an appointment in May last year. She died in April.

Mr Scott-Lee, a banking technology executive at HSBC, has previously said his daughter had become “hyper-fixated” on the detention, as reflected in her “uniquely comprehensive” diary.

Shortly before her death, she wrote: “I hope this is my last diary entry. I want to kill myself tomorrow. I was feeling better today until this evening when [I was told] I have the detention. Today I felt better because I was under some stupid false hope that it wouldn’t happen this weekend.”

Caitlyn’s father has questioned whether the coroner sufficiently took the diary into account.

Expert witness

He also claims the coroner should have included an assessment by Sir Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at the University of Cambridge.

Mr Scott-Lee submitted an expert report from Sir Simon to the inquest which claimed that if Caitlyn’s “GP or school had been well-informed of autistic people’s very high risk for suicide they should have triaged her as needing urgent support for her mental health”.

The assessment by Sir Simon, a cousin of comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen, suggested that “an autistic person who seeks help for depression should be seen by a specialist within 24 hours” because of an increased risk of suicide. It claimed that based on Cambridge University research, one in four autistic people plan or attempt suicide.

At a pre-inquest review in January this year, the coroner “expressly included Caitlyn’s state of mind in the scope of the inquest”, according to the legal filing. But it claimed that at a further review in March, the coroner decided Sir Simon’s assessment should not be included.

Mr Scott-Lee has also called for the High Court to review why the coroner imposed restrictions preventing reporting of legal arguments heard during the inquest.