Schizophrenic woman lay dead in social housing for nearly four years

EXCLUSIVE Schizophrenic woman, 38, lay dead in social housing for nearly four years before her body was found in ‘mummified state’ with ‘I need help’ scrawled on her calendar

  • Laura Winham thought to have died in flat in Woking, Surrey, in November 2017 
  • But she was only discovered in May 2021 when family urged police to break in
  • She was identified through dental records; a cause of death was not established

A vulnerable woman lay dead in social housing for nearly four years before being found in a ‘mummified almost skeletal state’.

Laura Winham, who had schizophrenia, had scrawled ‘I need help’ on her calendar shortly before her death.

The 38-year-old lived in a council flat, yet no one from social services or her mental health team had checked on her for three-and-a-half years.

Her rent continued to be paid through housing benefits and an annual gas safety check had even been registered.

Laura Winham, who had schizophrenia, had scrawled ‘I need help’ on her calendar shortly before her death

The troubled woman had threatened her heartbroken family that she would harm herself if they contacted her.

But eventually, her brother and mother asked police to break in to her flat in Woking, Surrey, where the horrifying discovery was made in May 2021.

Miss Winham is believed to have died in November 2017. She had to be identified through dental records and her cause of death was not established.

Now her devastated family are demanding to know how social services and health teams could have missed so many warning signs, ahead of a pre-inquest review next week.

Her sister 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.’

Miss Winham was born with Goldenhar Syndrome which caused curvature of the spine. She had a major heart operation aged 18 and suffered mental health issues from her teenage years, being sectioned twice.

In 2014, she was referred for mental health treatment after staff at her housing association noticed she was ‘unwell, quite thin, and had said she had no friends and believed people were watching her’.

Two years later, her Disability Living Allowance was stopped after she failed to respond to Department of Work and Pensions letters.

And in October 2017, Surrey Police officers reported to social services she had been self-neglecting and had little food.

But social workers – despite being told her phone was not working – tried to call her, then simply wrote to her at her flat, providing details of local food banks and support teams’ contact details.

When no response was forthcoming after two week, her case was closed on the system without any contact ever being made.

Miss Winham is believed to have died a few weeks later in November 2017, as that is when markings she had made on her calendar stopped – shortly after she had written ‘I need help’.

Her sister said: ‘Laura has been so badly let down. It’s just heart-breaking 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.

‘Her journey with mental health has been incredibly tough.

‘She grew up in a loving, supportive family. She had worked so hard to overcome her deafness and went to mainstream school, she attended college and gained a degree at university.

‘But then our very much-loved younger sister completely changed in front of our own eyes. And it’s something I would not wish on any family.

‘She believed all these voices in her head which were turning her against us, her own family.

‘Contact with us seemed to put her under enormous strain. She refused to see us and, in the end, we very sadly had to respect her wishes and leave her to professionals.’

The 38-year-old lived in a council flat, yet no one from social services or her mental health team had checked on her for three-and-a-half years

Yet nobody ever physically checked on Miss Winham, despite her having been known to social services and the community mental health team for many years.

And despite the housing association receiving no response to repeated calls, text messages and even house visits between November 2018 and January 2021, when seeking access to carry out gas safety inspections.

The gas supply to her property was cut off in January 2019.

Eventually, in May 2021 her brother Roy and mother Marilyn decided to try making contact again. Peering through the letterbox, he noticed something under a blanket which resembled a foot and they called the police.

Officers broke in and found the young woman in a ‘mummified almost skeletal state’.

Miss Winham’s family are now preparing for the inquest into her death.

Her sister said: ‘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.’

Iftikhar Manzoor, of Hudgell Solicitors acting for the family, said there were ‘so many red flags missed’.

He has written to the coroner calling for an Article 2 Inquest to be held, which would widen the scope to consider whether correct procedures were followed.

He said: ‘This is a hugely tragic and sad case. It is a life of a vulnerable person lost, because she was lost in a failing system.

‘Laura should never have been alone in a block of boarded-up flats.

‘Given her disabilities and needs, she should have been placed in assisted living accommodation. Her family made many attempts to contact her.’

Surrey County Council said: ‘This is a truly tragic case and our sympathies and deepest condolences are with Laura’s family and friends. 

‘It’s important that every aspect of this complex case is reviewed and we’re committed to participating fully in the inquest process. 

‘This will include providing any information that is needed to support the Coroner’s enquiries.’

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