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Reaching families for a public inquiry

Inquiries Case Study


The situation

Established in January 2021 by then minister for mental health Nadine Dorries, the Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry was set up as a non-statutory inquiry. Dorries acted amid ongoing concern about the quality and safety of mental health in Essex and after an investigation in 2019 by Rob Behrens, the parliamentary and health service ombudsman, which found numerous failings in the events surrounding the deaths of 20-year-old Matthew Leahy and another young man, named only as Mr R. To support its investigations and encourage potential witnesses to come forward, there was a fundamental need to reach a wide range of audiences and reach families and communities that may have evidence to give. Crest was asked to devise and deliver the communications required to reach these audiences and build their trust and confidence in the Inquiry.


Our response

Our analysis of local, regional and specialist healthcare coverage and commentary and stakeholder activity and sentiment indicated low levels of awareness and understanding of the subject matter and the Inquiry itself. We advised that a public appeal by the Chair for more families to come forward supported by proactive communications would help to raise the profile of the Inquiry and deliver a key message to potential witnesses. It informed our overall approach and how we developed a range of public-facing communication products and tactics. Working closely with the inquiry team, Crest developed a communications strategy with the goal of raising awareness and increasing participation while maintaining independence. A key part of this strategy was to proactively engage trusted media and hold an on-the-record but off-camera in-person media briefing with national and local press outlets. We drafted a press release outlining the key elements of the inquiry’s work, emphasising the need for more witnesses to come forward, and affirmed a narrative that steered away from criticism around its non-statutory status. Journalists and correspondents from nine different national and local media outlets attended the briefing, with several broadcasters conducting interviews with the Chair and with family members who had agreed to take part and have their story heard.


The impact

The briefing resulted in news items on the inquiry across local and national print, broadcast and radio. After the press interest, the inquiry received over 100 enquiries relating to its work, 30 of which resulted in evidence sessions. Many of these families, who had not yet engaged with the Inquiry, were from marginalised communities with limited access to typical social structure and facilities and low levels of trust and confidence in public bodies or authorities. To bridge this gap and help to drive participation in the Inquiry we sought advice and input from families already engaged in the Inquiry who had been directly affected by suicide, and then:

  1. Prepared ‘peer-to-peer’ statements from these families encouraging participation, for dissemination by local, national and regional media;

  2. Facilitated live and pre-recorded broadcast interviews with each of these families to provide relatable, impactful shareable content on social media, and;

  3. Produced ‘story packs’ on different families, supplying photographs and ‘media packages’ for all print and broadcast media - tailoring individual stories for specific media i.e. a different family / story pack for each different reporter (used 5 different family stories in total).

“Crest has made things happen for us and their ability to increase public awareness of our work and therefore engagement is what has made the difference. They are experts in this space.”

Inquiry Secretary


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