Vulnerable woman dead in flat for three years was ‘abandoned’, say family

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The family of a vulnerable woman who lay dead in her flat for over three and a half years say she was “abandoned and left to die” by social and mental health services.

Laura Winham, 38, was found in a “mummified and skeletal state” by her brother in her flat in Woking, Surrey, in May 2021.

Police were asked by her mother and brother to break into the property and following analysis of her dental records, the family’s solicitors said it had become apparent she had died in November 2017.

Ms Winham’s sister, Nicky, said social care and mental health teams had “turned a blind eye” and everybody with a duty of care had “wiped their hands of her and forgot her”.

Nicky said the family were unable to maintain contact with her after years of schizophrenia caused her to believe they would harm her.

The flats where the body of Laura Winham was found (Hudgell Solicitors/PA)

Speaking ahead of Monday’s hearing, Nicky said: “Laura has been so badly let down.

“It’s just heartbreaking to think of how she lived in her last few years, unable to ask for help, without anyone there for her, it’s just tragic.

“We felt reassured that she had been given her own home, she was entitled to benefits, she had her own car and some part-time work, a few friends and we believed she would be supported by her mental health team and others moving forward.

“But that hasn’t happened and quite clearly there has been a huge break-down in Surrey County Council’s system and services when caring for a vulnerable person with both physical and mental health disabilities.”

She continued: “There were so many warning signs, from the social care and mental health teams to her landlords, yet everyone seems to have turned a blind eye.

“For three years and seven months nobody from the council checked the internal state and condition of her flat and at no point during this time were annual gas checks carried out.

“The fact that she was dead for so long suggests failures all round to meet her basic human needs.”

According to the family’s solicitors, officers from Surrey Police reported concerns to Surrey County Council in October 2017 after visiting her flat over a minor issue.

They reported that she had been self-neglecting, had little food and appeared unaware of how to access local services for help, Hudgell Solicitors said.

Nicky said: “We always hoped she would get better with professional help and that one day our contact would resume. We never believed for one second we would end up finding her dead on her floor having laid there for so long without anyone knowing.

“Sadly, none of the investigations nor the inquest will bring Laura back, but it may prevent it happening again, and stop further avoidable deaths like this happening.

“No one should have to suffer the way Laura did due to the lack of support given to her mental health.

“We now must live with the devastating sadness of what has happened, and we are sharing our story because we do not want any other families to suffer in this way.”

Statements from both Surrey County Council and Woking Borough Council offered their “heartfelt” and “deepest” condolences to Ms Winham’s family, and said they would continue to support the coroner with their inquiries and the inquest process.

Surrey NHS mental health services and Surrey Police have been contacted for comment.

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