Woman jumped after 'pressure cooker' self-help course

The Australian/August 12, 2009

A self-help course attended by a woman who jumped naked to her death just days later was like a "pressure cooker", an inquest heard today. Rebekah Lawrence, 34, died on December 20, 2005 after getting undressed and jumping from an inner-city office building.

An autopsy found she had no drugs or alcohol in her system, but the incident happened just two days after she completed the Turning Point self-help course described as a "journey to the core of the human spirit".

Franco Vittozzi, a senior volunteer on the program, made the comparison between the course and a pressure cooker this morning at the inquest in Sydney into Ms Lawrence's death.

He agreed with counsel assisting the coroner Robert Bromwich that the course was about "loosening people up and breaking down their resistance to change".

Mr Vittozzi also agreed that for some people, the course "could be quite dangerous".

Accepting that he did not have the skills, training or experience to detect a psychosis, Mr Vittozzi agreed that he was only able to "detect the things that are really obvious."

The inquest at Glebe Coroner's Court also heard from Gregory Price, the paramedic who was first on the scene after being called to look after Ms Lawrence.

He found Ms Lawrence - considered a shy, gentle and model employee - agitated and running naked around her office.

He recalled her saying "I love you David, I love you David", and then, "in a very matter of fact way", she said: "I know I'm going to jump."

As she approached the window, Mr Price rushed into the room and heard her singing as she leapt feet first out of the window.

Lisa Coulton, a participant on the same course as Ms Lawrence said she had the impression "the teachers were well qualified", despite the qualifications of the leader of the program being limited to a computer science degree and experience on the Turning Point course and others like it.

Ms Coulton said had she known, it would not have mattered, and that despite it being "an intense experience", she "always felt supported and in a safe environment."

"I felt fantastic for weeks. I felt absolutely on top of the world," she said.

The inquest before Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson will continue next week.

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