Canterbury father of suspected suicide victim demands inquest

Geoff Booth with a photo of Liam when he was a boy. Photo: Martin Hunter
Geoff Booth with a photo of Liam when he was a boy. Photo: Martin Hunter
A Canterbury man who lost his son to a suspected suicide is demanding there be an inquest.

Geoff Booth fears he will not get the answers he needs as the coronial inquiry into his son’s death drags on.

It is coming up to four years since his 21-year-old son Liam died from a suspected suicide.

Christchurch Hospital staff discharged Liam about three weeks prior to his death, wrongly believing he was not going to harm himself.

Booth, who lives in Greendale, received a formal apology from the Canterbury District Health Board.

The report also acknowledged there was no clear evidence family members were involved in a discharge plan.

It also said family could have benefited from more information about support.

Liam Booth died in October 2017 from suspected suicide at the age of 21. Photo: Supplied
Liam Booth died in October 2017 from suspected suicide at the age of 21. Photo: Supplied
Booth said the approach to the October 2 anniversary was all the more difficult as he considered this could be marked without the inquiry having been completed.

“To me, it’s almost disrespectful to Liam’s life,” Booth said.

Booth is among bereaved family members calling for a reduction to the years-long delays.

They want more coroners, access to free legal representation and medical experts during the inquest process, as well as more support.

His friend and fellow parent Corinda Taylor is still waiting after more than eight years since she lost her son Ross to suspected suicide.

Said Booth: “It’s like waiting on a birthday but you don’t know what the date is. You don’t know how long you have to wait, you don’t know whether it’s next week, next month or next year.”

Booth fears that the there is so much backlog in inquiries, that the coroner will make their finding on Liam’s death following a hearing “on the papers.”

These are not public hearings, and family members, witnesses and other parties do not attend.

Booth wanted the hearing, which happens towards the end of the inquiry, to be an inquest.

Inquests are generally held in court and the coroner can hear from witnesses in person.

He said this would give him the opportunity to question health authorities and personnel about what he believed was a failure in their duty of care.

“I want to look them in the eye, so they can see the end result of not doing their job correctly,” Booth said.

Coroner Bruce Hesketh told The Star every death reported to the coroner was different, and coroners must consider evidence from a range of sources.

“While a coroner will also typically seek medical information, they may put their inquiry on hold pending the outcome of another agency’s investigation,” Hesketh said.

Deborah Marshall.
Deborah Marshall.
This was the case for Liam’s death, where the Health and Disability Commission is conducting an investigation.

“Once the investigation is complete (in these sorts of cases), a decision can be made about whether an inquest will be held,” Hesketh said.

Chief coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said a programme of work was under way to address average time frames for the completion of coroners’ inquiries.

Booth welcomed the work and other initiatives being planned. 

Where to get help:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
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• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202

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