Dementia drove top family judge to suicide, inquest finds

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Jun 08, 2017
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Sir Nicholas Wall had one of the rarest forms of the disease

Gary Lee

A former president of family division killed himself at a care home after he “lost the will to live” having learned he had dementia, an inquest was told yesterday.

Sir Nicholas Wall, who became the leading family judge in 2010 and retired for health reasons two years later, was found hanged in his room at Emily Jackson House care home in Kent on February 17.

The 71-year-old suffered for several years from a rare neurological disease called frontotemporal lobe dementia that had only recently been diagnosed. An inquest in Maidstone was told that the former judge had lost hope of ever getting better and had pushed his loved ones away amid his belief death was imminent. Two letters were found after the discovery of Sir Nicholas’s body by a nurse who noticed he was not in bed during a routine check just before 2am on February 17.

Acting Detective Sergeant Robert Grieve, of Kent Police, said one letter addressed to Sir Nicholas’s wife said that he believed any hope of returning home had gone. In another letter, written before his diagnosis, Sir Nicholas said he had “no hope for the future”, that he valued the help and support of his family but he believed his condition would deteriorate and he would lose his memory.

Frontotemporal lobe dementia is one of the least common forms of dementia and is sometimes called Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. It affects part of the brain that controls behaviour and emotions, as well as the understanding of words. It is caused when nerve cells in the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain die and the pathways that connect them change.

Recording a conclusion of suicide, Roger Hatch, senior coroner for north west Kent, said it was clear from the discovery of the note that it was Sir Nicholas’s intention to kill himself.

The Family Law Bar Association said following his death that Sir Nicholas had “continued to struggle with ill health” since his retirement in 2012. He was described as “a compassionate judge who thought and cared deeply about the outcome of his cases”.

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