A vulnerable woman who suffered from mental health issues for most of her life died of hypothermia alone in her freezing cold council flat, an inquest has heard.
Cass Terry, 55, had been through periods of self-neglect due to being diagnosed with a persistent delusional disorder and lived in a property in Exeter, Devon.
The musician and artist was under the care of Devon’s Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) until November 2020 – but was found dead inside her home a year later.
The fire brigade was asked to break into her property in Redlands Close on 11 November, 2021, after a neighbour had not seen her for a week and then saw her lying on the floor when he peered through her letterbox.
The inquest into her death, held at Exeter Coroner’s Court, heard how Terry’s home did not have a fridge/freezer, washing machine or microwave, and she had not known how to use the heating system.
A post-mortem examination confirmed the cause of her death was hypothermia and that Terry, an alcoholic, had not been intoxicated at the time of her death.
An insight into her mental health in the weeks leading up to her death was provided by a neighbour who lived opposite Terry and had also become a good friend.
He told how they were both alcoholics and would drink together, with Terry drinking “about 10 cans of lager a day”.
Recalling the conditions she lived in, he said: "The weather was quite cold at the time [she died] and I know she always used to have her windows open.
“When I visited her flat previously I remember it being very cold and I said to put the heating on but she said she did not know how to.“
Her sister, Anne-Marie Rogers, questioned in a statement whether more could have been done to support her and whether a lack of care contributed to her living in poor conditions.
Devon Partnership Trust (DPT) mental health nurse Jennifer Kent told the inquest how Terry came under the care of the CMHT in July 2019 following a hospital admission and presented with symptoms of psychosis.
No concerns were noted about the lack of heating and it was stated Terry had the capacity to report any problems she was having with it.
Terry declined a social care package by the CMHT and discharged herself from the service in October 2020, stating she was being cared for by a neighbour and that she was not ready to give up alcohol.
She had also not been collecting her medication.
Her GP at Mount Pleasant Health Centre told how the surgery had received a discharge summary from the CMHT and that it suggested she was being supported by a partner rather than a friend and had that been known the surgery would have monitored her more closely.
Area coroner Alison Longhorn recorded a conclusion of death by natural causes, adding that there “no concerns” when Terry spoke to a GP in February 2021.
Following the inquest, Terry’s sister hit out at mental health services for not doing more to help her.
Rogers said: "Cass’s death is an indictment of current mental health provision...
“Once discharged, there was no care for Cass. The mental health system that is set up to protect people like Cass has seriously failed her and our family.”