A “fun-loving” woman took her own life following the breakdown of her relationship and a dispute over who would look after the dog, an inquest has heard.
Caroline Forte, a successful graphic designer, hanged herself at her elderly parents’ home with her mental health having deteriorated since the break up with her partner who didn’t want them to have a baby.
The 35-year-old had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act at a hospital psychiatric unit but had been allowed to go home for a night – a fateful decision which ended in her tragic death.
Caroline, who was privately educated at Brighton Girls School, was “hit hard” when her relationship with partner, Barry Wickens, broke down during lockdown in 2020. The couple had bought and renovated their first home together but difficulties arose when they disagreed over having a baby.
A five-day inquest into Caroline’s death in Brighton, heard how Caroline struggled with her mental health following the end of the relationship, before eventually being admitted under the Mental Health Act to a psychiatric ward in Eastbourne District General Hospital.
Despite family insisting it was “unsafe” for her to come home for an overnight stay, the hospital allowed her release and she was found dead shortly afterwards, on February 20 last year, after hanging herself at her parents’ home.
Penelope Schofield, acting senior coroner for Brighton and Hove, told the inquest jury that “facts needed to be established” around Caroline’s death and that the family had waited over a year for answers. She said: “The family have indicated that they weren’t given any advice on how best to support Caroline.”
Attending the inquest were Caroline’s parents, Gillian and Anthony Forte, her older sisters, Liz and Sandra and older brother, Chris.
In her witness statement, her sister Liz said: “We have lost a vibrant, clever, kind, loving and much-adored member of our family whose 35 years are certainly not defined by this relatively short illness.
“Caro – as she was known to us – was a happy, fun-loving person, the baby of the family. She was an extremely talented and very successful graphic designer with an infectious giggle and strong family values.
“She had been with her partner, Barry, for a few years and they had bought a house together which they did up. It was a planned family home because Caro was very keen to start a family. Barry then decided he was unsure whether he wanted to try for a baby and so they had couple counselling.
“However the relationship continued to deteriorate and Barry eventually left in May 2020.”
The inquest heard how Caroline – the youngest of four children who lived in Brighton – was “hit hard” by his departure and was very up and down during the months following.
Liz recalled how her sister had turned up at her house late one night, very upset.
“Barry wanted shared custody of their dog, Doris, and there had been aggression and harassment with the police being involved,” she told the jury.
“She asked if she could come and stay with me because she ‘didn’t feel right’.”
The coroner heard how Caroline began to show signs of psychosis in November 2021, believing that her phone had been tapped and she was becoming paranoid about her devices. The family sought medical help and Caroline’s condition stabilised enough for her to go on a planned holiday to Costa Rica over Christmas.
However, on her return in January 2022, things took a turn for the worse, the jury was told.
The sister’s statement continued: “She wasn’t okay. She kept asking for help in changing passwords on all her accounts and she talked continuously about being hacked.”
The family agreed that Caroline should stay in Leeds with her other sister, Sandra, who was on maternity leave and who would therefore be able to look after her and keep her company.
The coroner heard that while in Leeds, Caroline attempted, twice, to kill herself with an overdose.
She received emergency psychiatric care under the Leeds and Yorkshire NHS Partnership Trust and was then transferred back down to Sussex where she was admitted under the Mental Health Act to the psychiatric ward of Eastbourne District General Hospital. She hanged herself less than a month later.
The inquest heard that her family believed there have been serious failures by both the Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust and Leeds and Yorkshire NHS Partnership Trust resulting in Caroline’s death.
Liz claimed: “They didn’t care for her. They released her when she wasn’t safe and under a mental health section and they released her to the home of my parents who are in their 70’s. It is absolutely shocking.”
The inquest will conclude next week.