Mother's agony after daughter laid dead in Hornchurch flat for six weeks
- Credit: Maria Stockdale
A woman who was supposed to be receiving fortnightly treatment from a mental health service was found “severely decomposed” in her flat, after laying dead for an estimated six weeks.
Sophia Yuferev, 37, was discovered by police in Hornchurch in November and her family are now trying to solve the mystery of what happened.
They have been refused an inquest on grounds that she died of “natural causes”, but say her post-mortem “raises more questions than it answers”.
They fear Sophia’s death may actually have been caused by a drug she was prescribed.
Backed by politicians, including Julia Lopez MP, they are campaigning for a coroner to investigate.
'She heard voices'
Sophia began suffering from depression when she was 17, said her mother Maria Stockdale, from Harold Hill.
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In her 20s she developed paranoid schizophrenia. When her family sought help for her, she would think they were conspiring against her.
“She heard voices, and had hallucinations,” said Maria. “She had a split personality. One side was paranoid, but the other side was perfect – very clever, doing high-level maths, painting, writing poems.”
When her condition was at its worst, Sophia would run away to escape her imagined enemies.
On one occasion she lived in a woodland for three months. Another time she was found in Israel and had to be repatriated.
It was during one of her periods of non-communication with her family that she died.
Maria said she had been relying on the North East London Foundation NHS Trust (NELFT) to keep Sophia safe and well.
Sophia grew up in Tower Hamlets, where Maria said she received good care.
But when the family relocated to Havering 12 years ago and Sophia fell under NELFT’s remit, she said, things deteriorated.
“There was no communication,” she said. “She called them so many times. I was calling. Nobody answered.”
In 2019, Maria wrote a nine-page complaint to NELFT, but said she received no reply.
"All these years of begging them to help and being refused all the time and being told to back off,” said Maria. “I was screaming for help and now it’s too late."
NELFT is now investigating Sophia’s death as a “serious incident”.
It was NELFT which eventually reported Sophia missing after staff didn’t hear from her for six weeks.
Maria said this delay in discovering Sophia’s body meant crucial questions about when and how she died might never be answered.
“We don’t even know what day every year to go to the cemetery,” she sobbed. “How can I live the rest of my life with this? It’s disgusting.”
Among Sophia's belongings, Maria found paperwork about a “treatment order”, under which a patient can be sectioned if they do not submit to ongoing treatment.
Sophia was supposed to receive an injection of Flupenthixol Decanoate – an anti-psychotic drug – every fortnight.
“They were responsible for ensuring she got her injection,” said family friend and former Labour councillor Patrick Murray.
“Why did they allow somebody to be laying dead in a flat for six weeks when they had a statutory duty?”
Maria had hoped an inquest would probe alleged failings by NELFT – but this week the coroner said there would be no inquest, as a post-mortem had attributed Sophia’s death to “natural causes”.
Her death was ascribed to high levels of blood acids, caused by either diabetes or “excess alcohol intake”.
But in June 2021, NELFT sent Sophia a letter stating that she was not at risk of diabetes and did not drink excessively. Toxicology tests proved Sophia had not drunk to excess before her death.
However, side effects of the anti-psychotic drug Sophia was receiving – Flupenthixol Decanoate – include diabetes.
Sophia’s family believe that if she died of diabetes caused by prescribed drugs, that is not a natural death.
They also say that if she was wrongly told she did not have diabetes, which prevented her from receiving treatment and resulted in her death, that should be investigated.
Mr Murray said he was helping Sophia’s family seek legal advice about overturning the coroner’s decision.
The coroner’s service said it would not comment as Sophia’s death was not the subject of an inquest.
A spokesperson for NELFT said the trust heard of Sophia's death "with great sadness".
"We send our sincere condolences to Sophia's family and friends," they added.
“As we are still investigating this case we are unable to comment at this stage.”
Surviving on a sandwich a day
Sophia Yuferev’s mother said her mentally-ill daughter spent her final months surviving on one sandwich per day, after the government cut off her benefits.
Maria Stockdale said her daughter’s paranoid schizophrenia and autism rendered her incapable of working or even of making decisions about her own wellbeing.
A letter written by a NELFT doctor in June 2021 said Sophia had “poor insight” overall, “limited insight” into her own health and medication and could not fill out her own passport application.
But on two occasions between 2019 and 2021, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) axed Sophia’s Personal Independence Payment – a benefit for people with long-term mental health problems which affect their ability to carry out everyday tasks.
In late 2019, Sophia’s payments were blocked because she failed to return a form.
They were reinstated in early 2020 but in February 2021, after Sophia asked for the amount to be reviewed, they were cut off again.
The DWP claimed Sophia could “manage complex budgeting decisions unaided”, “engage with other people unaided” and “read and understand basic and complex written information”.
Sophia appealed the decision in April, but by summer she was still awaiting a decision.
“She was completely broken,” said Maria. “She came to me in summer, crying, saying, ‘Mum, help me’. She said, ‘Mum, I’m eating one sandwich a day’.”
A June 2021 medical letter said Sophia was experiencing fatigue and a doctor wanted her Vitamin D levels tested.
Letters found in Sophia’s flat showed that by August, she had been issued with a court summons over unpaid Council Tax.
Havering Council said Maria’s bill was settled in late summer, although Maria did not know where the money had come from.
The government wrote to Sophia, reinstating her PIP money, on October 28 – but by then, she is believed to have already been dead.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our sincere condolences are with Ms Yuferev’s family.”
“We support millions of people each year, including those with mental health issues, and our priority is that they receive the benefits to which they’re entitled as quickly as possible, while providing a compassionate and professional service.”