Judge overturns ruling that drugs led to woman's fatal fall
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
When the family of “bubbly” Emma Fraser were told by the coroner she died after launching herself from a window in a state of drug-fuelled anxiety, they were devastated.
As far as the family were concerned, 33-year-old Emma from Sudbury had done no such thing.
This "unjust” conclusion on her death certificate was an affront to her memory, and they vowed to have it overturned.
OCD sufferer Emma, who was living in a Halstead flat at the time and struggling with her mental health, died from a traumatic brain injury when she fell from a second-floor window in the early hours of June 28, 2020.
Minutes earlier, she dialled 999 to report being poisoned.
In August 2020, the family lodged a complaint against Essex police for closing down the crime scene hours after opening it, and deciding almost immediately it was a “mental health episode which ended tragically”.
Ten months later, in May 2021, police apologised for their failings, and when the family asked the Independent Office for Police Conduct to investigate further, the review body found even more evidence that officers’ actions fell short of expected standards.
But Emma’s mum Cheryl and her uncle Karl Mayes, who took the coroner’s verdict like a “dagger to the heart”, didn’t stop there.
In December 2021, the family secured another victory against a justice system they felt had failed them, and at long last had the inquest verdict quashed and overturned.
- 1 World War Two-themed holiday accommodation plans at former airfield
- 2 Jailed in Suffolk: The criminals put behind bars this week
- 3 Police called to anti-vaccine demonstration at Suffolk pharmacy
- 4 'Two suspicious individuals' spotted on primary school roof
- 5 9 forgotten pubs that were at the heart of their Suffolk towns
- 6 Nearly 30% drop in Suffolk dentists taking NHS work
- 7 Nurseries, pre-schools and primaries see Covid rate rises
- 8 Children 'not receiving mental health support'
- 9 Wedding and events space in major refurbishment work at luxury Brett Valley venue
- 10 Companies facing tough recruitment battle in booming jobs market
'An accidental death’
Initially, coroner Lincoln Brookes recorded Emma’s cause of death as “drug-related”, concluding she “launched herself from a window” after reacting very badly and "recklessly" following the consumption of cannabis.
The new verdict, however, removes all reference to drugs, and concludes the cause of death was “accidental” — a result of “injuries suffered in a fall from height while suffering a paranoid delusion”.
The family claim that in the aftermath of the inquest, held on November 26, 2020, they tried contacting 70 law firms, none of which would fight their case on account of the “incredibly high threshold” that needed to be met for a change in verdict.
But London barrister Rory Brown, who was introduced to the family by justice charity Advocate, agreed to help.
Working together Mr Brown, Ms Fraser and Mr Mayes collated a “colossal” amount of evidence to refute the coroner’s findings. Another barrister, Harriet Wakeman, had to come on board to help with the workload.
They appealed to the High Court for a Judicial Review to challenge the coroner’s decision, claiming it was "irrational".
Once this was granted, they served proceedings against Chelmsford Coroners Court and waited for a hearing date to be set.
Some of the evidence presented to the court included the fact that:
- There was no evidence to suggest Emma "abused" cannabis, but smoked it regularly to treat anxiety and depression, and on the night in question smoked a single joint
- There was no evidence the psychotic episode was solely caused by the cannabis she smoked hours earlier
- There was no evidence smoking cannabis could cause such powerful delusions it would cause a person to "launch" themselves out a window
As part of the appeal grounds, Mr Brown said coroners should avoid reaching inquest conclusions based on "outdated" or "prejudicial attitudes".
"The coroner must avoid needlessly fuelling fears about the safety of a drug now prescribed for certain conditions", he added.
When confronted with the evidence, the coroner admitted his conclusion had been insufficiently supported, and a High Court Justice signed the order officially quashing the original inquest verdict.
On December 21 of this year, Ms Fraser received her “beautiful” daughter’s amended death certificate.
“The amount of mistakes involved in this case has been indescribable”, Ms Fraser said.
“My daughter was such a beautiful soul, and only 33. With the verdict being overturned she can finally rest in peace.
“We were so close and got on great. Losing her was my worst nightmare.
“She’d wanted to come and stay with me during the lockdown at the time, but she couldn’t because I was clinically vulnerable and shielding.
“I always think about how different this could have all been if she had, but I know we’d have forgiven each other anything.”
Re-opening the criminal investigation
For Emma’s mum and uncle, however, the fight for justice isn’t over. The family is convinced Emma was the victim of foul play.
Karl Mayes is in the process of presenting “hundreds of pages of evidence” to detectives to have the case reopened.
A spokesman for Essex Police said: “We continue to be in contact with Emma’s family on the circumstances which led to her death.
“It is a police officer’s duty to investigate all reasonable lines of enquiry and we always consider new documentation or evidence.
“Should significant new information come to light, we will not hesitate to re-open the investigation.”
Get the latest from the investigations unit with our weekly newsletter