Community care policy blamed for deaths of former patients: Incidents involved mentally ill people 'who should have been kept in hospital'

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The Independent Online
THE Government's controversial policy of caring for seriously mentally ill people in the community rather than hospital was yesterday blamed for two incidents in which former psychiatric patients died.

After an apparent murder and suicide in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in which a retired vet was thought to have killed his wife with a hatchet before taking his own life, the couple's son claimed his father was mentally ill and should have been in hospital.

And at an inquest in Warrington, Cheshire, a solicitor claimed that a 28-year-old woman, who slashed her wrists 12 months after being discharged from a top-security mental hospital, 'fell through the net' which should have been provided by health and social services.

The body of Dennis Archer, 71, was found in the driveway of his home at about 7am yesterday. The body of his 59-year-old wife, Mary-Lou, was discovered in her bed. She had severe head injuries and a bloodstained hatchet was near by. A post-mortem examination showed that Mr Archer died of multiple injuries consistent with having fallen from the roof of his house.

John Archer, their son said: 'I think it is an appalling indictment of the medical service. My father has recently been very ill and has been consulting the Roundway Hospital, Devizes. I have spoken to several people who have said he was a potentially lethal person waiting to explode. He was suffering from clinical depression and should have been in hospital. He was receiving medication, but obviously in a case like this he should have been closely supervised.'

Roger Pedley, general manager of the Roundway hospital - a psychiatric hospital which is part of the Bath mental health care trust - said an investigation was under way into Mr Archer's involvement with the hospital. He confirmed Mr Archer had been an out-patient, under the care of a consultant psychiatrist and was being treated for mental illness.

At the inquest into the death of Karen Brown, of Widnes, Cheshire, her family's solicitor, Peter Edwards, said she was discharged into the community from Ashworth top-security hospital, Merseyside, because no other institution would take her. She spent six years at Ashworth after being involved in two arson incidents. She frequently slashed her wrists, swallowed batteries and inflicted other injuries on herself.

She was refused a place at a regional secure unit and at two hostels so, as a third option, was given leave of absence to live with her mother.

Ms Brown was eventually discharged from the care of the hospital and, after living with her mother for 12 months, was found a flat. She became depressed, started losing her hair and was easily upset. She died after slashing her wrists and taking an overdose of anti-depressant tablets on 10 March last year following the receipt of a poll tax demand.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, John Hibbert, the coroner said: 'I am satisfied she did not intend taking her own life. It was a cry for help.'

After the hearing, Mr Edwards, a specialist in mental health law, said: 'In the light of this hearing I will be calling on the health and social services to hold a joint investigation into how Karen fell through the net at a time when she was at her most vulnerable. The Mental Health Act lays down a statutory duty for the district health authority and social services to provide aftercare when a person is discharged from mental hospital. It is apparent that this was not done.'