Charges possible over autistic teenager's death


An inquest into the death of a profoundly autistic Canberra teenager at Canberra Hospital in 2008 has heard that a person may have committed an indictable offence that led to the tragedy.

NSW Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon yesterday suspended the inquest, which began at Queanbeyan Local Court on Monday, to allow the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate the person in question.

Jack Sullivan, 18, died on February 18, 2008, at Canberra Hospital.

Since Jack's death, his mother, Esther Woodbury, had assumed her son drowned in a bath after an epileptic seizure while in care.

She said she believed he was brought back to life by a medical crew, fell into a coma and had his life support switched off at Canberra Hospital.

The person who might have committed the offence cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Mr Dillon said the DPP would look at whether or not the person ''materially caused'' Jack's death.

''I have come to the conclusion that this person may have committed an indictable offence,'' the deputy coroner said.

''This has given me a great deal to think about. It may well be the director doesn't decide to go ahead [with prosecution].

''I'm not permitted to name the person and there may be no publication suggesting the name of the person.''

A confidential report naming the person will be sent to the DPP.

Because of yesterday's suspension of the inquest, there is still to be a ruling about the exact circumstances and cause of Jack's death.


DPP investigates person over autistic teen's death

15 Oct, 2010

It could take as long as a year for this to happen, according to Mr Dillon.

Yesterday, Jack's family said it would be a long time before they could have closure.

Ms Woodbury, exhausted by the ongoing saga, was distraught.

''It's another year,'' she said.

Jack's family also wanted to highlight what it says is the need for disability carers to be licensed.

The deputy coroner stopped short of recommending this.

''I've been persuaded there may be unintended consequences from entering into that process,'' he said.

The ACT Public Advocate Anita Phillips said disability carers should be licensed in the same way other carers are.

''We have it for child care and day care, they are subjected to rigorous regulation,'' Ms Phillips said.

Mr Dillon said the inquest had highlighted some shortcomings in the disability support services provided by the ACT Government.

''The bureaucracy had been overly complex and had caused difficulty to Ms Woodbury,'' he said.

''But some improvements have been made to disability services since Jack's death and there's evidence the department was not callous in its intentions.''

A friend of Jack's family, Alison McGregor, said it ''was a start'' to recognising problems within disability care.

Ms McGregor said the family still hoped governments would look at accreditation for carers.

''There needs to be a standard for individuals regardless of intentions,'' she said.