Asperger's sufferer who drowned in Colney Heath lake committed suicide, says coroner (From St Albans & Harpenden Review)
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Asperger's sufferer, Keith Doughty, who drowned in lake behind Colney Heath Football Club committed suicide, says coroner
A homeless man with Asperger's syndrome who was found drowned in a lake in Colney Heath took his own life, a coroner has ruled.
Keith Doughty, 39, used a weighted rucksack to drown himself in the lake in the recreational ground behind Colney Heath Football Club on Wednesday, April 10.
During an inquest hearing on Thursday, Hertfordshire Coroner Edward Thomas said he "had no doubt that Mr Doughty had meant to take his own life."
Coroner Thomas ruled Mr Doughty had died of drowning and the Asperger's syndrome, a form of Autism, contributed to his mental health state.
Mr Doughty became a well-known face in the Colney Heath village because he regularly slept rough on the common. He was often seen begging for food and money and sometimes residents would assist him with sandwiches and spare change.
During the inquest, Coroner Thomas heard from three different support workers who agreed Mr Doughty could not maintain his flat, finances and health.
It was also noticed Mr Doughty had little communication skills and would not engage in conversation, only answering questions with yes or no.
Former Outreach support worker Karen Smith who gave evidence during the inquest described Mr Doughty as the most "socially entrenched person she had ever met" during her 20 years in social care.
Ms Smith met Mr Doughty, while he was sleeping rough after Colney Heath Parish Council contacted her in July 2011 because residents had raised concerns over his wellbeing.
She said: "There was a lot of concern in the village and a split attitude. Some people supported him by giving him food but others wanted him gone.
"I guess people felt uncomfortable with someone sleeping rough."
Ms Smith said when she first met Mr Doughty he wasn’t signed up for a local GP, job seekers allowance, housing or benefits, which she says she slowly started to engage him with.
The support worker also explained her concerns for Mr Doughty’s mental health to which she persuaded him to attend a doctor’s appointment.
The court heard that this was when it was revealed Mr Doughty had aspergers. However, Mr Doughty refused to accept the diagnosis and insisted he did not have anything wrong with him.
After diagnosis Mr Doughty was transferred to the mental health department and it was deemed "a priority" he should be housed.
Ms Smith said: "Keith told me he wanted to stop rough sleeping and insisted he wanted to stay in the village.
"After asking him a lot of questions I knew he wanted to live in a flat.
"He didn’t want to go back in to a hostel with other people. I offered him his own bedroom in a hostel and he refused.
"Even when he was in minus 16 weather conditions sleeping rough, he wouldn’t ask for help and wouldn't go into a hostel."
In January he was housed at a flat in Cutmore Drive. Despite this, Mr Doughty continued to sleep rough "with just a thin sleeping bag and without shelter."
However Ms Smith said Mr Doughty soon began to live in his flat more when he had a television. She said: "He absolutely loved the TV. As soon as he got the TV he stopped sleeping rough.
"We went down to the common and cleared the rubbish. I explained to Keith that this was it and after he would just go down to the common and have a drink."
When asked by the coroner to describe Mr Doughty, Ms Smith said he would neglect his personal hygiene but would always shave and when she complimented him, he would often laugh and smile.
She added: "I was very sad and shocked to hear that he had died.
"I couldn’t quite believe that he would have done something like that. When I was with him, he showed no signs of wanting to take his own life."
Evidence from PC Paul Pickett explained a young boy had seen Mr Doughty walking towards the lakes half an hour before his death.
PC Pickett said there was no evidence he had been dragged and a report from pathologist Dr Lutful Wahab concluded he had taken his own life.
Coroner Thomas concluded: "I have no doubt in my mind that he took his own life.
"This is very sad. I am very impressed by all the support Keith had and the effort from everyone I have heard from.
"Working with someone with aspergers takes a long time and a lot of patience for them to develop trust. He obviously couldn’t cope with his flat but found it difficult to communicate this.
"He may have been frightened.
"Maybe if he had known there were plans for him to go into a residential dwelling and a chance for him to be comfortable, there might have been a future for him. But I understand that would have taken time."
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