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Holbrook: Suicide verdict over death of music teacher Paul McCaffery

PUBLISHED: 09:36 21 December 2012

Paul McCaffrey

Paul McCaffrey

Archant

THE inquest into a music teacher who was found hanged on the school premises where he taught for nearly 20 years, has recorded a verdict of suicide.

Paul McCaffery, 46, was found dead by maintenance staff at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook in his staff accommodation in West House on March 29.

The inquest heard how the assistant director of music had been sacked in January for an “alcohol-related issue” at the school and given notice to leave his house by the end of the Easter holidays.

Mr McCaffery appealed against his dismissal but the headteacher at the time, Howard Blackett, upheld his decision.

Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean said concerns had been raised about the teacher’s welfare, some of which had been shared with Mr McCaffery’s family.

During the hearing held at the IP-City centre in Ipswich yesterday, Dr Dean said: “Concerns were raised about his response to losing his job, which was a very significant part of his life, and it is clear that losing his job meant losing his home.”

He said there had been “mention” of committing suicide and the headteacher had contacted Mr McCaffery’s brother, Philip.

It emerged that close friend and former deputy headteacher Ed Smitheram had called round to Mr McCaffery’s house on March 28 but could not get in. The school’s maintenance staff were contacted and entered the house the next morning where they found him dead on the staircase.

A post-mortem examination found the cause of death to be compression of neck structures. Toxicology tests also found a raised alcohol level.

The inquest heard that an assessment carried out by a mental health crisis team in February, did not find Mr McCaffery to be at risk of suicide.

However, Dr Dean said Mr McCaffery had been complaining of anxiety attacks several months earlier and was prescribed beta-blockers by the school’s doctor.

He said: “The family said had they known more they would have taken further steps. We can’t be certain that even if they had all the information this tragedy could have been averted.

“The school went through a process they felt they had to go through.

“They shared some information but some things they couldn’t share because of patient confidentiality. It was a difficult decision for the school to take about a valuable member of staff.

“It does appear beyond reasonable doubt, Paul intended the consequences of his actions and I record a verdict that Paul McCaffery took his own life.”

But he also said he would be writing to the school to remind them of the need to look at all aspects of vulnerability in the decision-making processes. He said: “Clearly it was a hard decision for the school but we need to raise the awareness – that is not to imply any liability on the school’s part.”

After the inquest, Mr McCaffery’s brother Philip said there were still questions that need to be answered by the school and he would be seeking a meeting with the school’s trustees – Greenwich Hospital.

“I think Paul’s death could have been averted. If I had all the information to hand I don’t think Paul would be dead now.

“The school had pre-conceived ideas about Paul having drinking problems which clouded his dismissal.

“I’m disappointed nobody from the school apart from the doctor attended today. There’s a big void of answers the family is still seeking.

“Looking back, he didn’t have a drink problem, he had mental health issues.

“The school could have kept the family better informed without breaking patient confidentiality.

“I want the school to apologise and admit more could have been done.

“He was a larger-than-life character and loved by so many, including parents and pupils. He has helped so many people to achieve their goals, not just in music but in life.”

Philip said his brother’s dismissal was alleged to have centred around an incident at a school rugby dinner last December.

Nobody from the Royal Hospital School was available for comment last night.

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