Katie just wanted to help others wanted to help people

Katie Sullivan, a 23-year-old carer for the mentally ill, was stabbed to death by a patient six years ago. Now it has happened again. Why?
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The Independent Culture
The death of Jenny Morrison, the 50-year-old social worker who was killed at a care-in-the-community hostel in Balham, south London this week, brought back bitter memories for Sandra Sullivan. Although the precise circumstances of Jenny Morrison's death have yet to emerge, the killing at a hostel reminded her of the death of her own daughter six years ago.

Like Jenny, Katie Sullivan was devoted to her job, caring for the mentally ill. Idealistically, perhaps, she told her mother a day before her death: "One day I will teach those around me, doctors included, to respect those who are mentally ill."

Katie was 23 when she began working as a carer in Kingston for a MIND hostel for pounds 2 an hour. She had read psychology at Swansea University and planned to study for a doctorate at Oxford University.

On the day she died, Katie was washing up in the kitchen of the hostel when a female patient, Erieyune Inweh, walked up behind her. She picked up a carving knife and thrust it into Katie 14 times, piercing her heart, liver and lungs. Katie's screams were heard by a fellow patient who alerted the hostel manager. The manager discovered Inweh kneeling over Katie still stabbing her. Inweh, 22, had used violence before but Katie was unaware of the extent of the patient's violent nature.

In fact, Katie had struck up a friendship with Inweh, even introducing the patient to her family. However, Inweh had became upset when Katie told her that she'd applied for a pounds 200-a-week job as a care assistant. The day before her attack, she'd stopped taking her medication and only eight days earlier, that medication had been halved.

When Katie died, Sandra Sullivan, now 53, and her husband Mick expected sympathy and help from her employers and from the legal authorities. They felt, though, that there was no help. Lawyers representing the council which was responsible for the hostel where Katie was killed, even said the Sullivans would "save money" in the future by not having to pay for Katie's Christmas and birthday presents.

Sandra says: "Katie was frequently referred to as a `calculated risk' and an `unfortunate incident'. Treading in dog dirt is an unfortunate incident."

Sandra, who has four children, says: " Our family was obviously devastated, but we only had each other to turn to. There was no help from outside. Most of all we wanted answers, but everything was very secretive. At first we thought it was a million-to-one chance that Katie had been killed. But as we looked harder, we found it could have been avoided."

Over the past six years, Mick and Sandra have battled for justice for their daughter. It has been extremely difficult for them to see a string of similar cases crop up in the news among people working in the mental health sector. A year after Katie died, Jonathan Newby, a 23-year-old postgraduate student, was working in a homeless hostel in Oxford. He was stabbed by Andrew Rouse, a schizophrenic who was later sent to Broadmoor. In the same year, Georgina Robinson, an occupational therapist at Torbay Hospital, was killed by Andrew Robinson, who had planned to kill John Major.

Michael Howlett, director of the Zito Trust says: "People who have commitment to doing good can be taken advantage of. All too often there is no training offered. They're left to supervise shifts, often on their own and deal with people who really are too dangerous to be in the community."

Sandra is still determined to improve standards for these employees and volunteers. For example, she wants other mental health workers, like their daughter, to be told about the background, violent or otherwise, of patients they're working with.

While Inweh was detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act, it was discovered that she had already used a sharp weapon to attack a fellow patient who she believed was the Anti-Christ.

Despite spending pounds 50,000 in legal costs trying to force enquiries and to get answers the couple were constantly thwarted by red-tape. Sandra is a calm, well-educated woman, but there is no hiding the abiding feeling of anger and revulsion. She only refers to Inweh as "it".

Sandra says: "When it took my daughter's life it gave up the right to be recognised as a human being because that is not human behaviour. To me that person will always be an `it'."

Eventually Inweh was cleared of Katie's murder and sent to Broadmoor indefinitely. Sandra is still shocked by the detail that emerged after the court case.

"Potentially violent patients were not normally admitted to the MIND hostel in Kingston because it was supposed to ease them back into the community," she says.

The social worker who admitted Inweh to the hostel did not know all the details of the previous hospital attack and told the MIND hostel that she had not been involved in "life-threatening behaviour".

Now another hostel worker has been fatally stabbed. "But I know our campaigning has done some good. We have made people sit up and listen. Now we need real change. Not only has Care in the Community cost the life my daughter Katie. I believe it cost the life of my husband as well," Sandra says.

A couple of months ago Mick Sullivan, 56, died from a heart attack, sitting next to Sandra in the car. He had just learned that the Sullivans would not be able to have legal representation at a mental health tribunal which was due to discuss the possible release of Katie's killer.

Now Sandra is carrying on the work alone; among other things, she would like research to be carried out about the long-term effects of sudden or violent deaths on families. She would also like to make the voice of victims of crime more audible and has helped to launch an umbrella group for victims organisations called Victims' Voice. Organisations backing the charity include The Suzy Lumplugh Trust and The Zito Trust.

"I only hope that this latest killing can finally make something happen," Sandra says.