Vulnerable woman, 55, died of hypothermia inside her freezing cold & barren council home, inquest finds

A WOMAN died from hypothermia after routinely leaving her home unheated, a court heard.

Cass Terry, 55, from Exeter, Devon, suffered from poor mental health triggered by persistent delusional disorder.

Cass Terry died from hypothermia after her property was routinely unheatedBPMBPMTerry, right, had a history of mental health issues[/caption]

The fire brigade were called to break into Ms Terry’s property by one of her neighbours in Redlands Close in November 2021.

The concerned neighbour reported not having seen her for a week – and saw her lying motionless when he looked through her letterbox.

The musician and artist passed away a year after she was placed under the care of Devon’s Community Mental Health Team (CMHT).

An inquest heard that Ms Terry was unsure how to use her heating system and did not own a washing machine, microwave, or fridge.

Her sister, Anne-Marie Rogers, feels that the lack of care she received could have played a part in her death.

She said: “I have concerns about her death and the care she received or did not receive leading up to her death which I feel possibly contributed to her death.”

Exeter Coroner’s Court head that Ms Terry would often drink heavily to self-medicate.

Despite this, a post-mortem examination noted that she died from hypothermia and that she was not intoxicated.

Describing her past struggles, she continued: “She was put into care at age of 14 by Devon County Council and was also repeatedly sectioned in recent years.

“She had been homeless, once living in a cave.”

A neighbour recalled how her mental health noticeably worsened shortly before she died.

In a statement, he said: “She started drinking more heavily in the months before passed away, about 10 cans of lager a day.”

Reflecting on Ms Terry’s living conditions, he added: “The weather was quite cold at the time [she died] and I know she always used to have her windows open.

“When I visited her flat previously I remember it being very cold and I said to put the heating on but she said she did not know how to.

“In my opinion, she could not look after herself due to her drinking and she should have had a carer.”

After displaying symptoms of psychosis, Hertfordshire-born Terry was assigned a support worker by CMHT who visited on a bimonthly basis.

On one occasion, when the worker asked to help source a new fridge, Ms. Terry declined – stating that she was having her kitchen fitted and it wasn’t an “urgent” acquisition.

Additionally, a social care package was proposed by the CMHT, but Ms Terry again refused – assuring them that her neighbours were taking good care of her.

Issues with a lack of heating were never mentioned.

Ms Kent said: “We had to respect her choice and decision and she had the ability to weigh up her options. We felt she had insight and an ability to self-rescue by calling into services so that was quite a protective factor.”

No concerns were highlighted when Ms Terry had her annual over-the-phone mental health check in February 2021, nine months before her death.

Paying tribute to Miss Terry after the inquest, her sister Miss Rogers said: ” She was a gentle soul who loved animals.

“Despite being well known to Exeter mental health services, having been sectioned six times in four years including several occasions in Exeter, she was discharged during a lockdown and judged a ‘low risk’.

“Yet the mental health services knew she couldn’t cook for herself, didn’t have a fridge, wasn’t taking her medication, and had been sectioned the year before.

“Cass’s death is an indictment of current mental health provision. The principle of self-determination seems to be used as an excuse to ration mental health services. Once discharged, there was no care for Cass. The mental health system that is set up to protect people like Cass has seriously failed her and our family.”

Recording a conclusion of natural causes, area coroner Alison Longhorn

Area coroner Alison Longhorn reached a conclusion of natural causes for Ms Terry’s death.

A mental health check nine months before her death found no cause for concernBPM