The family of a dad-of-two found dead five days after he went missing from a Banbury hospital said their lives have been shattered by his loss.

James Rugg’s partner, Stephanie Mitchell, and his brother Phillip said they could now ‘only take comfort from happy memories of his short time with us’.

At an inquest this week, senior coroner for Oxfordshire Darren Salter said opportunities were missed by doctors and nurses at the Horton General Hospital, where Mr Rugg was being treated for alcohol detox-induced seizures in May 2020, to put in place 1-1 nursing care or to assess whether the 51-year-old had capacity to decide whether or not to discharge himself.

The two-day inquest heard that a search for the missing Coventry man was called off for several hours after Thames Valley Police were mistakenly told by their counterparts in the West Midlands that he had returned home.

Officers in a National Police Air Service helicopter found Mr Rugg’s body in farmland around two miles east of the Banbury hospital on May 12, five days after he first went missing. The helicopter joined the search – requests by Thames Valley officers having previously been turned down – after a member of the public called police to say he’d seen the missing man on May 7.

In a joint statement, James Rugg’s partner Stephanie Mitchell and brother Phillip said: “We wish to make it clear that we have always respected the medical profession and continue to do so. We know their work is difficult at times.

“However, we believe the coroner’s inquiry has shown James was a very ill man who needed urgent 1-1 observations and specialist support which he sadly never received.

“We hope that at least systems will now be improved in the future as a result of his untimely death.”

Mr Rugg was described as a ‘loving partner, caring brother and a devoted father’.

“He was an intelligent Cambridge graduate who was first and foremost a happy, family man who enjoyed nothing more than spending time with his children playing sport or seeking outdoor adventures with them and his partner,” they said.

“He brought laughter and happiness to us and everyone in his life. Our lives have been shattered because of his tragic death and we can now only take comfort from happy memories of his short time with us.”

Rankeshwar Batta of Anthony Collins Solicitors, who was instructed by family, added: “The tragedy of James’ death was in my view avoidable had appropriate supervision been put in place and preventative clinical steps undertaken once his condition began to worsen after admission to hospital.

“This case was all about taking personal responsibility to ensure adequate supervision and treatment was in place for a sick confused adult patient in need of specialist support.”

Prof Meghana Pandit, Chief Medical Officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, apologised to Mr Rugg's family for the care he had received.

“Following a thorough investigation into this sad incident, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that this situation doesn’t happen again. As a result, a comprehensive action plan has been developed as we review and improve our policies and way of working, as a Trust and with partners," she said.

“We recognise the distress this has caused to both Mr Rugg’s family and our staff directly involved in his care. We are aware of the coroner’s conclusion and have taken the concerns raised on board.”