Widow of lawyer who took his own life loses £5m compensation claim

Widow of Julian Assange’s lawyer who took his own life while being treated for depression loses £5m compensation claim against one of the psychiatrists she blamed for his death – but will receive a smaller payout after agreeing out-of-court settlements

  • Barrister John Jones, 48, stepped in front of a train at West Hampstead in 2016
  • Contact Samaritans for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch 

The grieving widow of Julian Assange’s lawyer has lost her £5m compensation claim against one of the psychiatrists she blamed for him taking his life.

John Jones, who also worked alongside George Clooney’s lawyer wife Amal, died after walking out of north London’s Nightingale Hospital, where he was being treated for acute depression, on April 18, 2016.

Mr Jones, who was head of international law at the acclaimed Doughty Street barristers’ chambers, was fatally injured after stepping in front of a morning train at West Hampstead station.

Following his death aged 48, his widow Misa Zgonec-Rozej, 47, sued his psychiatrist Dr Stephen Pereira, initially alongside his colleague Dr Neelam Bakshi and the Nightingale for damages.

But following a trial in May, High Court judge Mr Justice Bourne has today rejected Mrs Zgonec-Rozej’s £5 million claim, saying she had not proved Dr Pereira contributed to Mr Jones’s death.

Human rights barrister John Jones, 48, died after being hit by a train near West Hampstead station in April 2016

Mr Jones’ widow Misa Zgonec-Rozej (pictured) took legal action against her husband’s psychiatrist Dr Stephen Pereira, initially alongside his colleague Dr Neelam Bakshi and London’s Nightingale Hospital for damages

The widow will still receive a much smaller – but ‘confidential’ – payout after the judge revealed that she has agreed out-of-court financial settlements with Dr Bakshi and the hospital.

During the trial, Ms Zgonec-Rozej’s barrister Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel KC said Mr Jones had held down a dynamic practice as a leading barrister for over a decade, and had gone through Oxford University and gruelling legal training despite suffering an earlier mental breakdown aged 17.

He carved out a name as a pioneering human rights barrister in the field of war crimes and represented the former president of Sierra Leone, Charles Taylor, who was later jailed for 50 years.

He later switched to extradition law and acted for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

He encountered barbaric violence in his work, representing men charged with the most horrific atrocities, and also appeared in last-chance death penalty appeals.

Opening the case against Dr Pereira, Ms Gumbel claimed the risk of self-harm had not been ‘managed’ effectively due to ‘a number of overlapping deficiencies in the care provided to Mr Jones by Dr Pereira’.

‘He was provided with no effective treatment, no effective therapy and no effective management,’ she alleged.

The pattern of Mr Jones’ care at the Nightingale became confused, because although Dr Pereira arranged for his urgent admission, responsibility for his care was subsequently transferred to another psychiatrist as Dr Pereira went on holiday, she continued.

Mr Jones was head of international law at the renowned Doughty Street Barristers’ Chambers and represented Julian Assange (pictured) among other high profile clients

Ms Zgonec-Rozej (pictured outside the High Court) will receive a much smaller – but ‘confidential’ – payout after the judge revealed that she has agreed out-of-court financial settlements with Dr Bakshi and the hospital

‘On 10 April, Dr Pereira returned from holiday and resumed responsibility for Mr Jones’ care as his treating consultant,’ said Ms Gumbel.


‘He retained that responsibility up to Mr Jones’ death on 18 April 2016..’

Mr Jones’ death came after he left the Nightingale in the early morning of April 18, 2016, having told staff he needed to go for a walk.

‘At 6.50am, Mr Jones called the hospital and said he would be back in one hour,’ Ms Gumbel told the court.

‘At 7am, he died when he was struck by a train at West Hampstead station.’

In her evidence, Ms Zgonec-Rozej said her husband had felt ‘like a naughty schoolboy’ during some therapy sessions and was reluctant to attend group sessions.

Although he seemed to make some progress under treatment, it was ‘momentary’ and ‘the next day all that was gone’.

Ms Zgonec-Rozej accepted that she had not raised specific concerns that Mr Jones was in a ‘bad way’, but added: ‘he was under the hospital staff supervision and I thought they knew what they were doing’.

‘I thought they were observing him, I trusted that he was in a safe place,’ she told the judge.

In his ruling today, Mr Justice Bourne found that Dr Pereira had breached his duty to Mr Jones, but did not find he had contributed to the lawyer’s death.

Central to the case was the failure to ‘expeditiously’ set in train the process of getting individual therapy sessions organised for Mr Jones, which an expert said might have ‘given him hope.’

‘That process should have begun on or very soon after 11 April,’ said the judge.

‘The evidence is that a recommendation by a consultant would be followed by a visit to the ward by a psychologist for an assessment, leading to a decision on what type of individual therapy to pursue.

‘An available therapist would have to be identified and then, no doubt, the first session would be scheduled.

At the time of his death, Mr Jones was being treated at the private Nightingale Hospital (pictured) in Marylebone, north London, for acute depression

‘I therefore do not know when any psychotherapy would have taken place if the process had started early in the week of 11 April 2016. It is possible that a session might have taken place before 18 April, but that is uncertain in itself, and I certainly cannot say that there would probably have been more than one.’

One expert witness had said that therapy needs to occur on a ‘a long-term basis if it is to lead to beneficial effect’ and in a case like Mr Jones’ would take a ‘gradual process over months of building trust and a therapeutic relationship.’

Another psychiatric expert witness, Dr John Meehan, said one or two sessions in the crucial final week before Mr Jones took his life ‘might have given him hope,’ the judge continued.

‘In my judgment that answer was both perceptive and precise,’ he said.

‘Dr Meehan was pointing out that even one session might indeed have engendered new hope, but did not exaggerate by claiming that it would definitely have done so or that a single session would have had some probable and identifiable impact on Mr Jones’ illness.

‘In addition to the considerable uncertainty about whether an initial session would have had a positive or any effect on Mr Jones’ feelings, I must also contend with the lack of evidence of why he took his life on 18 April.

‘I can infer that he felt a lack of hope, but I cannot know what else he may have felt in his disordered state that day.

‘There is consequently even more uncertainty about whether any new development, such as a note of optimism arising from starting a course of therapy, would have been sufficient to dissuade him from taking his life.

‘Combining the uncertainties of whether a session would have taken place, whether it would have given Mr Jones some hope and whether such effect would have been sufficient to change the outcome, it is far from probable that the failure to take prompt steps to arrange psychotherapy caused or contributed to his death.

‘The claimants are therefore unable to succeed in their claim because they cannot prove that any breaches of duty caused the loss arising from Mr Jones’ death.’

The judge said that, had Mrs Zgonec-Rozej proved that her husband had died because of Dr Pereira’s care, he would have awarded £1,776,122 in damages.

However, the smaller sums which she had already agreed outside court with the hospital and Dr Bakshi would have to had to have been deducted from that.

‘From any overall liability would fall to be deducted the sums obtained by agreement from the second and third defendants,’ he said.

‘The court, and the first defendant, have seen the terms of those agreements, which are said to be confidential.’

  • Contact Samaritans for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch 

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