Care inquiry launched into mother's killing

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The Independent Online

An independent inquiry will be held into the deaths of a 42-year-old schizophrenic and his 76-year-old mother, it was announced yesterday.

The bodies of Robert and Muriel Viner were found at their home in Corfe Mullen, Dorset, last April. Mrs Viner had been beaten over the head with a weightlifting disc and her son died from a drugs overdose.

Nigel Neville-Jones, East Dorset Coroner, recorded a verdict of unlawful killing on Mrs Viner and an open verdict on her son, who had been treated for paranoid schizophrenia for 19 years. He was satisfied no other person was involved.

The verdict comes a week after care in the community for the mentally ill was condemned as "haphazard" and "confused" in reports by the Social Services Inspectorate and the Clinical Standards Advisory Group.

The Viners' deaths will be the subject of an independent inquiry by the Dorset Health Commission. It will be held in private but the findings will be made public.

The Poole inquest was told the bloodstained body of Mrs Viner was found by her son-in-law in a chair in the lounge. She had suffered more than a dozen blows to the head from the disc. The body of her son was found in the bath. The coroner heard Mr Viner's schizophrenic behaviour was becoming more of a burden to his mother as she got older. He had no previous history of violence but could be abusive and drink heavily.

Because of that, it was felt he should move into sheltered accommodation. But he did not want to go and his mother was reluctant to take the necessary steps for him to be moved from the house. Dr Michael Ford, a consultant psychiatrist, said Mr Viner, who had been treated on a voluntary basis, could not be "sectioned" under the Mental Health Act.

However, three days before the bodies were found, arrangements were made for Mr Viner to be admitted to hospital if he agreed.

Ian Carruthers, chief executive of Dorset Health Commission, said it was important any lessons "that can improve our already high standards of practice" were learnt from the inquiry. Dorset Health Care NHS Trust said an internal review found the deaths would have been difficult to prevent.

t A shortage of NHS beds means mentally ill patients are being treated in private hospitals, according to a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. For every 122 patients who needed care, only 100 beds were available in the12 London mental illness services surveyed. On 12 July 1995, when the survey took place, 96 patients were placed in distant psychiatric hospitals and 70 per cent in private hospitals.