A Sydney medical receptionist who failed to take her sick, elderly mother to a doctor for more than two years, and then left her body in bed for months after she died, had been unable to cope with the woman’s descent into dementia, a coroner has found.
The badly decomposing body of Noreen Peacock, 83, was found in October 2013 by real-estate agents conducting an inspection of the Kellyville home she had shared with the youngest of her three daughters, Melissa Peacock.
Six days later, police found Melissa at the Shangri La Hotel in central Sydney – one of a number of hotels in which she had been staying since her mother’s death.
They charged her with fraud and failing to report a death, the inquest into Mrs Peacock’s death heard.
“This was an extraordinarily sad case,” Deputy State Coroner Sharon Freund said in handing down her findings on Thursday.
“Noreen Peacock died being cared for by the person who no doubt loved her the most, her youngest daughter.”
The inquest found that Melissa had lived with her mother since 1995 and cared for her since 2010 when Mrs Peacock was diagnosed with dementia.
The pair reportedly had a “very close and dependent relationship” but, from November 2010 until her death sometime in July or August 2013, Melissa failed to take her mother to a doctor or seek any other form of assistance.
The frail woman was left in the house for nine hours a day, six days a week, while Melissa undertook her job as a medical receptionist at Norwest Private Hospital.
Medical evidence suggested that Mrs Peacock had weighed as little as 37 kilograms at the time of her death, the inquest heard.
One doctor said he believed hypothermia was the most likely cause of death because she had been lying naked in bed during the coldest months of the year, probably without the heater on.
The doctors were unable to draw any conclusions from the discovery of fractured thyroid cartilage in Mrs Peacock’s neck.
While Ms Freund was unable to make a formal finding as to the cause of Mrs Peacock’s death, she found that the woman’s isolation from medical and other care had been a contributing factor.
“Responsibility for Mrs Peacock’s isolation must rest primarily with Melissa,” Ms Freund said.
“It was, in my view, totally unacceptable that Mrs Peacock was deprived of medical attention from November 2010.
“It is also unacceptable that Mrs Peacock was being left alone, locked in a two-storey house for up to nine hours a day, six days a week for many months while Melissa went to work.
“The risks involved in leaving an elderly person alone for this length of time are obvious.”
However, the coroner found that Melissa had most likely been suffering from serious, long-term depression and, more recently, alcoholism.
She also found that Mrs Peacock’s other two daughters, Jaslyne and Deborah, also bore some responsibility because they had failed to come up with a plan to assist with the care of their mother or “make further inquiries about how Melissa was coping”.
“They simply did not want to know,” Ms Freund said.
“At some point, Melissa became unable to cope with the responsibility of being the sole carer and provider of an elderly, frail mother who was suffering from the advanced stages of dementia.
“Melissa did not reach out for help. Her sisters did not extend assistance despite awareness of their mother’s deteriorating condition.
“This, in my view, further isolated Melissa from the outside world. Melissa was left to flounder and the consequences were extreme.”