Self-help course led to death, court told

Uneasy after self-development courses

The Sydney Morming Herald/August 11, 2009

Rebekah Lawrence had been expecting to feel unbalanced and emotional after completing a "high-intensity" self-development course.

But two days after finishing the Turning Point program, run by People Knowhow, the usually shy and polite 34-year-old was hurling abuse at her work colleagues and had stripped naked before falling to her death from an office window.

An inquest at the Coroner's Court in Glebe heard yesterday that there had been no alcohol or drugs in Ms Lawrence's system. She had jumped from the Macquarie Street building where she worked as a personal assistant for the chief executive of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians shortly before 7pm on December 20, 2005.

Counsel assisting the inquest, Robert Bromwich, said that in the two hours before Ms Lawrence's death, she had been "aggressive, somewhat abusive and somewhat foul-mouthed, all of which were totally out of character".

"Her death was not a suicide because she didn't have sufficient presence of mind to take her own life," Mr Bromwich said.

Ms Lawrence, of St Peters, had arrived late to work that morning full of news about her "wonderful, life-changing weekend", the court heard. But she also seemed distracted, stared out the window and failed to complete any work, colleagues observed.

One colleague, Christine Ernst, told the court Ms Lawrence had made dozens of phone calls to a number but could not get through. It was later discovered she had been calling the People Knowhow office at Cremorne.

The acting chief executive officer of the college at the time, Peggy Sanders, said that about 5:30pm Ms Lawrence entered her office completely naked and said in a gentle voice: "I'm all right, Peggy, I'm all right, don't worry."

Ms Sanders said she helped Ms Lawrence dress. She described her manner as "very quiet and very childlike".

Ms Lawrence suddenly began pushing her away "with a force that I never imagined possible", Ms Sanders said.

She later jumped out the window before ambulance officers could subdue her.

Mr Bromwich said that while Ms Lawrence had some "personal frailties" and an ongoing conflict with her husband, David Booth, about not having children, there had been nothing in her life that would cause her to take her own life.

"I do not believe that Rebekah was responsible for her own death," Mr Booth told the court. "I am certain that she would not have committed this act prior to the Turning Point course."

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