Teacher at private school in Yorkshire died from alcohol misuse after disciplinary action and redundancy

A primary teacher who had to leave her job of more than 20 years because of her use of pain medication died aged just 51.

Sarah Ellwood had taught Year Four at fee-paying Hill House School near Doncaster since 1999 before a disciplinary process and subsequent redundancy in 2021.

The Lancaster University graduate, who lived on Vulcan Mews, Auckley, a short distance from the school site near Doncaster Sheffield Airport, died on April 14 last year.

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At an inquest at Doncaster Coroner's Court this week, it was determined that her death was caused by a perforated ulcer in her intestine and that she had a background of chronic alcohol misuse.

Hill Hous School, Doncaster

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Sarah had suffered a relapse in her alcohol addiction after losing her job at Hill House, where she had previously been the subject of a disciplinary hearing after taking medication for debilitating back pain into school.

Speaking as a witness, Sarah's father John Gay said: “In 1999 she began working at Hill House School and was there for 21 years.

“She had the pain medication in school when there weren't any children there so she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong. But there was to be a gross misconduct hearing which brought on anxiety and depression.

“She expressed that she was very upset with the way they went about things.”

Mr Gay went on to say that Sarah and the school reached an agreement in which she handed in her notice and took a lower sum of redundancy pay than was expected prior to the medication incident.

“It was a tipping point for Sarah,” John said.

“She came home crying and was distraught.”

A toxicology report showed that Sarah had 130ml per 100ml of ethanol present at the time of her death - which equates to one and a half times the driving limit.

Senior coroner Nicola Mundy told the court: “Sarah had a long, successful career as a teacher. She had a number of health issues which presented her challenges such as significant chronic pain.

“Her lower back pain was debilitating day to day. She took an excess amount of medication to remove that pain.

“The excess medication led to an accidental overdose but there is no evidence that it was not accidental. She had a reasonably long history with alcohol which stemmed from social drinking but this developed into excess drink.

“In my opinion it was a crutch that she relied upon. She made concerted efforts to overcome her alcohol issues and was supported by her family.

“Sarah engaged with the services and her family felt she was making progress.

“In 2021 the school at which she was employed announced that they would be making redundancies. Sarah was chosen to be made redundant which she appealed but accepted.”

Ms Mundy recorded a verdict that Sarah died from a perforated duodenal ulcer on a background of chronic alcohol misuse.

Hill House School, which is located on the site of the former RAF Finningley officers' mess, takes children up to the age of 18.