FAMILIES of mentally ill patients are now being given more involvement in their care following the death of a schizophrenic man who leapt in front of a lorry in York.

An inquest heard that Tristan Berthoud, the son of a former University of York Professor of English - the late Jacques Berthoud - suffered severe head injuries in the crash in Lawrence Street last July and died several days later.

The lorry driver, Phillip Cooper, fought back tears as he recounted how he tried in vain to prevent his 7.5 tonne truck, travelling at 30mph, from hitting Mr Berthoud. "There was nothing I could do,” he said. “He just leapt. There was no warning at all. I just couldn’t believe it.” The inquest heard Mr Berthoud had earlier run into the road, straight into the side of another vehicle.

Coroner Jonathan Broadbridge said Mr Cooper was not in any way to blame for the collision and concluded the death was suicide. Mr Berthoud’s sister Mireille hugged Mr Cooper and said the family felt compassion for him.

The inquest heard that Mr Berthoud had attended an appointment with a consultant psychiatrist only the day before the crash, at which the consultant had assessed him as being at low risk of harming himself. Family members claimed mental health service staff had failed to listen to them over a period and involve them in creating an appropriate care plan.

Now Elizabeth Moody, a director of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust has apologised to the family and said: “We investigated the circumstances around Tristan’s tragic death and, following a review of his care, we have strengthened arrangements for coordinating and involving patients, their families and clinicians under the Care Programme Approach to make sure that care is always planned and agreed together.”

A tribute to Mr Berthoud by his family was read out by the Coroner at the start of the hearing.

Mr Berthoud’s family said he was born in South Africa, where his parents were active against apartheid but they came to England when he was two.

He was intelligent, bilingual in French, had been reasonably expected to do well in some profession and read French with Philosophy at King’s College, London, with an exchange year at the Sorbonne in Paris.

“His difficulties were becoming clear towards the end of his undergraduate course, but he still achieved a 2:1,” they said. “To the end of his life, he thought of himself as an intellectual and a writer.

“As a young man he was attractive, funny and gregarious. He was rugby captain of Pocklington School, and also an excellent footballer and cricketer.

“He bore continual mental distress and repeated hospitalisations with stoical patience. He was rarely angry, and never physically aggressive. He was compliant with his treatment.”

They said his schizophrenia was ‘very intractable’ and became increasingly tangled with alcohol problems.

“Since Tristan died, many people who had known him in a variety of ways have spoken to us about his exceptional generosity and sweetness of nature. People loved him.”

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