An academically gifted girl, Francesca Candita-Simpkins, 13, of Catford, South-East London, who wanted to study at Oxford University to join the diplomatic service, was found hanged in her parents’ garden shed on April 25 after she was suspended from the prestigious Newstead Wood Grammar School in Orpington, according to the Mirror. Apparently, she had been suspended from school for two days following an incident where she and a friend stole a crafted knife from a design technology classroom to use to become blood sisters.
Five months prior to her suicide, Simpkins confided in her teacher and said she had been suicidal since the age of six and wasn’t getting along with her parents. She was self-harming and had even overdosed, after which she began receiving treatment for anxiety at a local mental health facility. From that point on, Simpkins was “placed on a ‘red flag’ list” at her school to “indicate to teachers that she was vulnerable and needed to be treated sensitively.”
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) November 1, 2015
However, despite her history with suicidal thoughts and attempts to kill herself, the school’s head teacher, Alison Ross, decided to suspend her immediately following the incident, causing her to miss her exams, according to the Daily Mail.
Believing that she let her family down, the following day, Simpkins waited until her mother left home to pick up her siblings, and committed suicide. Her father found the teen hanging in the family’s garden shed and when London police officials arrived, they discovered a half-finished note in her room, located in her school bag that read: “I’m sorry for letting the family down.”
Coroner Lorna Tagliavini blamed the school for Simpkins’s tragic outcome because they failed to consider her past when they punished her, and didn’t think how it would have affected her. She said, “Turning to the reaction of the school in question, I do find that its own policy for dealing with a major behavior incident was not followed. The first part of the policy was followed and then the school staff did not follow the second part of the policy.”
“The fact that the taking of the knife was not a risk to other students seems to have been overlooked. That was not properly considered and not properly addressed at the time. It was known that Francesca was a vulnerable student. It was known that she had a red flag that she had difficulties with her family, and she self-harmed.”
The coroner added that “None of those factors were properly considered when deciding what punishment should be meted out. There is no evidence that the head teacher took into consideration any of the evidence. Mrs. Ross had already made her mind up and made the decision that Francesca would be suspended. That was not properly explained to Francesca who thought that any punishment would be meted out after she had taken her exams.”
“On that basis I do find that the school’s failings on that part have contributed to the events that occurred. It was the exclusion of Francesca from her school which she clearly enjoyed and where she had a great circle of friends.”
Simpkins’ parents were stunned by their daughter’s suicide and told investigators that they were unaware of their daughter harming herself until she overdosed. That’s when they sought out professional help, but her parents claim they were never advised on how to care for some with a mental health condition. Her father Edward Simpkins said, “What I didn’t get from any of the mental health professionals was what to do with looking after a young person who has had one attempt of suicide. There was no advice given on how to look after her or how to manage her. At the time I assumed that none was required.”
“All the conversations I had with Francesca, she made promises never to do anything like that again. I honestly believed that she was too sensible to do something like that again.”
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and local safeguarding board are currently preparing reports regarding the suicide of 13-year-old Francesca Candita-Simpkins, but the coroner says she is prepared to “make her own report if she is not satisfied with their recommendations.”
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