Tragedy of doctor afflicted by “terrible disorder”

Date: Friday 9th March 2012

CUMBRIAN doctor Deborah Pearson, who was found dead in Whinlatter Forest a month after going missing, died of hypothermia, an inquest was told on Wednesday.

Coroner David Roberts ruled at the hearing in Workington that Dr. Pearson took her own life while suffering mental health problems.

The inquest was told that Dr. Pearson’s body was found by a police officer who continued to look for her while off duty after large-scale official search operations were called off.

The 43-year-old mother of four left her family home in Thornthwaite, near Keswick, on 21st December, 2010. The day after she disappeared her black Volvo 4x4 was found by police in a car park near the Whinlatter visitor centre.

Her body was discovered on 20th January last year, after searches of the forest involving mountain rescue teams, trained dogs and helicopters had all proved fruitless.

Dr. Pearson, who worked as a trainee GP before leaving to have her youngest two children, grew up near Brampton and later lived in Caldbeck. She had earlier worked as a hospital doctor.

She was married to Dr. Chris Hallewell, a consultant psychiatrist who is medical director of Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust for mental health and dementia services.

It was revealed at the inquest that Dr. Pearson described as a devoted mother had been diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder and earlier in 2010 had been hospitalised under the Mental Health Act.

Dr. Karen Johl, a consultant psychiatrist with the Cumbria Foundation Trust who treated Dr. Pearson after her discharge from hospital, said she had at first been reluctant to accept her illness and engage with treatment.

Despite her “very strong sense of stigma”, Dr. Pearson had latterly begun to accept that she had a mental illness and engage with her treatment, said Dr. Johl.

She last saw Dr. Pearson three weeks before her disappearance and stated that she was in a depressed frame of mind. However, she was “rational, insightful, engaged and making progress”. She was continuing to take prescribed medication and engage with Dr. Johl and a care co-ordinator as well as her GP.

Asked by the coroner if she felt Dr. Pearson was at “real and immediate risk” of suicide, Dr. Johl replied: “I didn’t think so.”

The hearing was told that Detective Constable Carl Davidson, who worked as a family liaison officer on the case, had used mapping information provided by a mobile phone company to continue the search for Dr. Pearson’s body in his spare time, after the official search was called off.

The place where Dr. Pearson was found was a steep and densely wooded area away from footpaths.

“At that time there had been numerous searches by all kinds of organisations and the decision had been made that there were to be no further searches,” he explained.

“You were determined to find her, and you did,” said coroner Mr. Roberts.

Found with Dr. Pearson’s body were numerous empty blister packs which had contained prescribed medicines including Diazepam, also two empty bottles of whisky.

She was said to be dressed in lightweight indoor clothing with temperatures as low as -8C recorded in the early hours of 22nd December.

A diary was found in the boot of Dr. Pearson’s abandoned car, in which she repeatedly mentioned having suicidal thoughts.

Summing up his findings, coroner Mr. Roberts said that Dr. Pearson had been cared for “appropriately” in the community during the months leading up to her death and had received “significant input” from her GP, community psychiatric nurse and Dr. Johl.

She had died of hypothermia, the pills and alcohol simply “providing the background that allowed her to go to sleep more quickly”, he said.

He described Dr. Pearson as an “academic, bright and capable woman”, and added: “It is a matter of huge sadness that she has been afflicted by this terrible disorder.”