Former Harrogate vet died after injecting animal euthanasia drug, inquest hears
Mar 21, 2024
The coroners court in Northallerton

A former Harrogate vet took her life by taking drugs used to euthanise animals after reactivating her licence, an inquest heard.

Sarah Jane Bromiley, 49, was found dead at a house on Red Hills Road, Ripon, on May 22, 2023.

Coroner Catherine Cundy said the death raised questions about how registered vets can acquire controlled drugs without an official premises inspection.

Ms Bromiley first registered as a veterinary surgeon in 1988 but stopped practising in 2006 following the birth of her first child.

The inquest heard during that time she had “non-practising status”, and instead began working as a practice manager at her husband’s dental surgery in Ripon.

But the coroners court in Northallerton heard yesterday Ms Bromiley later registered to re-activate her licence with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in October 2020, and was able to order a quantity of a controlled drug to her home address without an official premises inspection.

Ms Cundy said Ms Bromiley’s application was accepted by the RCVS just a month later, when she registered her family’s second residential home as her practice premises.

In May 2021, Ms Bromiley indicated to the RCVS she was “not sure” when she would officially begin practising as a vet but outlined her business plan to offer euthanasia services to small animals and horses through home visits.

The coroner said, based on evidence supplied by the RCVS, which is responsible for regulating individual vets and sole practitioners, and the Veterinary Medications Directorate (VMD), which is responsible for inspecting veterinary practices, she was satisfied that this method of veterinary practicing was “not uncommon, particularly in rural areas”.

No inspection of premises

Although originally registered in Ripon, the court heard Ms Bromiley changed the address of her registered veterinary practice to that of her family home on Rutland Drive, in Harrogate, on July 1, 2021.

The VMD was notified of the change, the coroner said, and offered Ms Bromiley an official inspection of the new address.

The coroner said:

“I accept that the VMD emailed Sarah and offered to carry out an inspection of the updated premises on February 2, 2022.

“Sarah replied to the email a week later, on February 9, to say she had ‘not yet started operating as a practice’, and asked what the inspection would involve.

“Sarah was then sent the inspection criteria by the VMD and was told she would be contacted again in six months’ time. But by then, she would sadly already be deceased.”

The coroner attributed the VMD’s delay in carrying out inspections to a “considerable backlog following the pandemic”.

In January 2022, Ms Bromiley told the RCVS she was planning to use both the Harrogate and formerly registered Ripon addresses as her practices, but just over a year later, added she “still had not begun work on animals”.

Neither property was ever inspected, the court heard.

Ordering the controlled drugs

The court heard, although a formal premises inspection never took place, as a registered veterinary surgeon, Ms Bromiley was able to order controlled drugs.

She placed the first of two orders with wholesaler National Veterinary Services in July 2021 and said the substance would be “for use on small animals”.

The coroner said the wholesaler undertook the relevant checks “as required” when a vet places an order of restricted substances, adding Ms Bromiley filled in the relevant forms before the drugs were delivered to her home address in Ripon.

The coroner said there was “no evidence” to suggest the first order was ever used on animals.

Ms Bromiley then ordered a larger quantity of the same controlled substance in April 2023. However, this time, she noted the order was “urgent” and was, again, required for use on small animals.

Instead of home delivery, Ms Bromiley made a 200-mile round trip from Harrogate to Stoke-on-Trent to collect the drugs, where she was required to show her drivers’ licence and provide a signature.

At the time, she also collected other veterinary paraphernalia, which the coroner concluded was used to assist her death a little more than a month later.

Coroner’s conclusion

Ms Cundy said from the spring of 2020 until her death, Ms Bromiley attended regular medical consultations. She complained of “chest pains, fatigue and low blood pressure”, but the only diagnosis ever given was that of a cyst on her jaw, the court heard.

She was also told she may be suffering from long covid, the coroner said, adding Ms Bromiley grew “frustrated” at the absence of an official diagnosis.

However, Ms Cundy cited Ms Bromiley’s medical records, which stated she was showing signs of “low mood” in April 2022 – more than a year prior to her death – but had declined a referral to mental health services.

The coroner then concluded the journey to obtain the euthanasia drug, instead of home delivery, was done to “conceal” the order from others, adding:

“I find collecting the drugs was indicative of Sarah’s mind and I suspect her growing intent to take her own life.”

On Sunday, May 21, 2023, Ms Bromiley told her husband, Roger, she would be staying at their second property in Ripon, which the court heard was “normal” for the couple.

The coroner said the couple exchanged messages that evening until 10pm.

However, concerns grew after Ms Bromiley did not turn up for work at the dental practice the following day (Monday, May 22).

The court heard Mr Bromiley visited the property at lunch time to check on his wife, but found the door was “locked with the key on the inside”.

Ms Cundy then said Mr Bromiley returned to the house at around 6pm with a screwdriver to unlock the door, adding:

“Inside, Mr Bromiley found an envelope on the landing outside one of the upstairs bedroom doors. It said, ‘do not come in – call the police or 999’.”

Ms Cundy concluded, according to notes left by Ms Bromiley addressed to her husband, children, family and even the coroner, she was “adamant she was not mentally ill” and instead said she was suffering from “grief”.

The coroner also said:

“I find along with the police investigation there was no third party involved or any suspicious circumstances surrounding Sarah’s death.

“I believe she acted alone and intravenously self-administered the drug, which was found at a level associated with fatality in the toxicology report.

“I conclude a cause of death of suicide and find Sarah, sadly, took steps to meticulously end her own life.”

Ms Cundy noted she would send a “letter of concern” to the Veterinary Medications Directorate and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons expressing concern over the means by which registered vets, who are in the “same regime someone like Sarah was in”, can acquire controlled drugs without an official premises inspection.

She did, however, recognise it would not be “practical or realistic” to request a second signature upon delivery of controlled drugs to sole practitioner vets as a means of preventing similar acts, when they “don’t work alongside other vets”.

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