Tragic death of autistic St Albans teen

AN inquest into the death of an autistic teenager, who had a history of hiding pain, was opened and adjourned at Herts Coroners Court on Friday.

Sophie Harmsworth, 14, died at Watford General Hospital, on February 12 this year, of acute peritonitis and acute gastro appendicitis. The inquest heard that she had been severely ill in the days leading up to her death and required home visits by a GP.

A statement by the teenager’s parents, read out by Herts coroner Frances Cranfield, said they had called the Highfield Surgery on February 8 as Sophie had been vomiting for two days.They described her as looking very poorly with “sunken eyes”.

The family was visited by Doctor Mark Bevis at their New House Park, St Albans, home that afternoon.

Dr Bevis told the inquest that he was aware of Sophie’s autism but that he hadn’t seen her for some years.

He knew that she didn’t like to be touched but said he was able to check her stomach for signs of involuntary reactions and expressions of pain which may have indicated appendicitis.

He also said that it would be unusual for someone who could hide pain to not show some sign of discomfort when suffering from appendicitis.

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Following his examinations he said he thought she was suffering from acute gastroenteritis.

Before he left, Dr Bevis told Mr and Mrs Harmsworth that Sophie should improve in a few days, but that they could call again if things deteriorated.

Sophie’s parents subsequently requested another visit on February 11 as she had a restless night with very little sleep.

Again Dr Bevis checked Sophie’s stomach and once again diagnosed gastroenteritis. Her condition deteriorated overnight and Sophie was taken to hospital by ambulance the next morning, where she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.

Dr Bevis was questioned for more than four hours by Mr and Mrs Harmsworth’s legal representative Oliver Williamson about his examinations of Sophie on the two dates.

Dr Bevis said during the questioning: “I hadn’t found any clinical evidence that gave me cause for concern or the need to admit Sophie to hospital.

“I felt as sure as I needed to be that she was suffering from gastroenteritis.”

The inquest was adjourned and when it resumes, further witnesses will be called before a cause of death is recorded.