Mum's killing by son could have been avoided if his mental health was reassessed, inquest finds

Sally Poynton, 44, was stabbed to death by her eldest son at her home in Crowlas, Cornwall
Sally Poynton, 44, was stabbed to death by her eldest son at her home in Crowlas, Cornwall -Credit:Sally Poynton/Linkedin

A Cornwall mum’s death could have been avoided had her son’s mental health condition been diagnosed sooner, an inquest has concluded. Sally Poynton, 44, was attacked by her son, Jacob Poynton-Whiting, at her home in Crowlas near Penzance on June 22, 2021.

The tragedy came a year after Poynton-Whiting was briefly detained at Longreach mental unit in Redruth. He had been discharged after 10 days without a diagnosis and clear support plan in place, and was later struck off the mental health service’s list when he failed to respond to follow-up letters.

Andrew Cox, senior coroner for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said that had referrals been accepted to have Poynton-Whiting reassessed or needs assessment conducted following his discharge from Longreach in June 2020, his deteriorating mental health would have been identified, and a treatment plan put in place. Mr Cox said he believes if this were the case, it is “more likely than not that Sally would not have died when she did”.


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During a seven-day inquest held at Cornwall Coroner's Court in Truro, it was heard that Sally had sustained a number of injuries consistent with a knife, with the most significant injury being the one to her neck. Amanda Jeffrey, Home Office forensic pathologist, said the wound was irregular and consistent with a knife having been drawn across the neck more than once.

Sally had also suffered a stab wound to the abdomen and to the outer aspect of left thigh, a cut to her index finger on her right hand and a large cut to the leg. A cause of death was given as knife wounds to the neck and abdomen.

Poynton-Whiting was sentenced to a hospital order on January 14, 2022, having pleaded guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility and causing grievous bodily harm relating to an injury to his younger brother as he tried desperately to help his mum. Following his arrest, Poynton-Whiting was diagnosed with schizophrenia by two psychiatrists and it was heard that following proper treatment, his condition had markedly improved.

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Jacob Poynton-Whiting stabbed his mother to death at her home in Crowlas, near Penzance -Credit:Devon and Cornwall Police
Jacob Poynton-Whiting stabbed his mother to death at her home in Crowlas, near Penzance -Credit:Devon and Cornwall Police

Bringing the inquest to its end, Mr Cox, who gave a conclusion of unlawful killing, said he was in “no doubt there were individual failings in this case”, however he does not believe there was a fault in the systems in place within agencies.

Some of the individual failings he highlighted included: an incomplete summary of Poynton-Whiting’s discharge from Longreach for his GP to access; failure to provide Sally with information about her rights as the nearest relative; the inaccurate recording of Poynton-Whiting’s new address at his new GP surgery in Penryn when he moved in with his father; the decision not to refer him for assessment upon the second urgent referral completed by his Marazion based GP; and failure to put a clear support plan in place after his discharge from Longreach.

Mr Cox also highlighted the lack of information sharing across agencies and a concern around the “blanket policy” to strike off unresponsive patients from the mental health service’s list, without regard as to why they are unresponsive. However, the coroner said that: “I take care to recognise that these are individual failings, they are not systemic.”

During the inquest, it was heard that Sally had made at least 20 attempts to get help for her son and have his mental health assessed. There were also at least 10 other attempts by family members to get him support.

Yet, in the 13 months before Sally’s death, Poynton-Whiting had not been seen face-to-face, despite being known to adult social care. Mr Cox said at the time of Poynton-Whiting’s detention at Longreach, no member of staff saw he had a mental health condition but after Sally’s death, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He said it was clear “condition had obviously deteriorated” in the 12 months following his discharge.

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Mr Cox added he would be writing a prevention of future deaths letter to the Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust (CPFT), which runs Longreach, as he said there were lessons to be learned. The trust apologised and said changes had been made.

The coroner also said: “There is always a concern about a shortage of staff within CPTF but it is also a national issue. I know there have been national and international campaigns but there needs to be renewed efforts to recruit staff into mental health services in Cornwall.”

Raising the issue of domestic abuse by proxy, after concerns had been raised during the inquest of the influence of Sally’s former partner Matthew Whiting on her son following an acrimonious split, Mr Cox said he would also be raising it at a national level as it was the first time he had come across it.

Ending the inquest he said: “Sally was far too young to die. There are lessons to come out of what has happened here and I will do my best to ensure they are learned for the benefit of patients to come.”