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Parents awarded out-of-court settlement after tragic death of daughter

Staffordshire | News | Published:

The parents of a young musician from Staffordshire who killed herself while on 'unescorted leave' from a hospital where she was being treated after showing signs of suicidal tendencies have been awarded a five figure out-of-court settlement.

Samantha Maritza, who was the lead singer of up-and-coming electro indie band China Red, was killed when she stepped off the platform into the path of a train at Lichfield Trent Valley on June 9, 2010.

The 21-year-old, who was studying hairdressing at Tamworth College and designed many of her own clothes, had been released the same day on a two-hour unescorted leave from St George's Hospital, in Stafford.

She had suffered from depression for two years and was prescribed antidepressants.

The former Friary School pupil had shown signs of being unwell in her second year of studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and eventually left her course.

Miss Maritza, who had also been diagnosed with non-epileptic attack disorder, had made several suicide attempts before agreeing to informal admission to St George's Hospital in May 2010.

Her father Stephen, aged 57, of Batesway, Rugeley, said: "They said it was for her own safety and care. She was worse while she was there."

She made six more attempts on her life during a three-week period and was detained under the Mental Health Act.

He 55-year-old mother Joan said she had expressed concerns to a nurse on the morning her daughter was due to take unescorted leave from the hospital after looking in her journal and seeing an entry relating to trains, but claimed these were not passed on.

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Miss Maritza, who formed her first band Maritza when she was 16 and played at the Fuse Festival in Lichfield among other gigs, was able to leave the hospital but her family grew worried when she stopped texting them and failed to return.

Her father said: "We knew there was a problem. We went to Stafford train station. We asked if there was any CCTV to look at because we were worried about our daughter.

"They said there had been an incident in Lichfield involving a 40-year-old chap. They then took us upstairs to a room."

He said it later emerged his daughter had been involved in the fatal collision after he was able to confirm that she had a tattoo of a treble clef behind her ear.

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An inquest held in 2011 found that Miss Maritza, who had a sister Jamie, 23, and brother Billy, 20, killed herself while mentally unwell.

Her family brought a claim of negligence against South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which manages the hospital, and have called for changes in procedures and care, particularly with regard to unescorted leave and advice shared by family and friends.

An out-of-court settlement was reached but the hospital does not admit liability.

In a letter to her parents, the trust's chief executive Neil Carr said a detailed investigation was carried out by the trust and 'steps have been taken to try and avoid a similar situation occurring'.

Mr Maritza said the family intended to use the money from the settlement in raising awareness surrounding mental health issues and in helping performing arts.

He added: "Sam was really bubbly. She was brilliant. She was a singer, very arty, gorgeous, but she felt so low.

"It has now been four years since we lost our beloved Samantha.

"The pain has become no easier to bear during this time but we do feel we need to speak out about this horrific tragedy, to help others."

He said his daughter had not been ready for unescorted leave, adding: "We seriously believe that unescorted leave was taken far too lightly and the danger was not realised. We are all struggling to come to terms with our loss but as a family we hope, for Samantha's legacy at least, we can make a difference in helping others by possibly preventing such heart breaking outcomes."

The family's lawyer, Sharon Allison, of Ashton KCJ, said it was hoped lessons could be learned.

Amanda Godfrey, spokeswoman for South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We are truly saddened by the death of Samantha and our condolences go to her family.

"In line with our usual policy, a full investigation was carried out into the circumstances surrounding her death and a number of changes have been implemented, including an emphasis to staff that patient notes must be completed in full and observation sheets correctly filed.

"We have also recently introduced a new clinical information system which will allow all staff to have access to electronic health records, offering more comprehensive and up to the minute detail on each patient."

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