System failed to help tormented schizophrenic

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The Independent Online
FOR 10 years, Jonathan Morrell fought off the demons and delusions that plagued his mind and progressively distorted his personality and behaviour, until, in a fit of madness, he battered his mother almost to death, writes Rosie Waterhouse.

For 10 years his family sought help, from doctors, the social services and the health authorities for treatment and care to prevent Jonathan hurting himself and his family.

And yet, despite the terrifying imaginings which tormented him, his bizarre and sometimes frightening behaviour, his repeated suicide attempts and the recurring violent attacks on members of his family, no co-ordinated specialised service existed to address Jonathan's particular form of mental illness - schizophrenia.

Jonathan was suddenly struck down by intermittent attacks of what his family can only describe as madness, in 1978, when he was 18. Having studied graphic design at college and also acquired skills as a mechanic, he had settled in London. But at Christmas 1978 he left his girlfriend of several years and went home to Harrogate in North Yorkshire.

His eldest sister Sarah, now 37, recalls: 'He came and sat in a chair and laughed without stopping for a week. He just had hysterics. He was obviously ill but it was so bizarre because he was laughing all the time.'

He began to suffer from increasingly frightening nightmares and delusions. Jonathan's mother Pam, now 60, persuaded him to see the local GP, who prescribed medication. This controlled the delusions and but caused depression.

Jonathan's other sister Kirstie, 36, wrote down some of her memories of that time: 'Very soon he stopped taking the tablets and started to fear the doctor. Without medication, his health deteriorated very quickly. His mind became full of delusions; imaginary people and voices taunted him . . .' Over the next few years, Jonathan spent time in Clifton psychiatric hospital in York but on early visits he escaped.

As the paranoia deepened he started carrying around weapons - a knife and a small wood chopping axe - to protect himself from imaginary evil forces. He started beating up his mother and Sarah and once he attacked his estranged father Tom with an iron bar. Although divorced from Pam when Jonathan was nine, Tom returned from the United States when he heard how ill his son had become. He stayed to look after him and ended up looking after his former wife who now needs 24-hours a day care.

By 1988 Jonathan was returning home to terrorise his mother and Kirstie, both of whom he came to fear and hate. Kirstie wrote to his psychiatrist warning that unless something was done she feared Jonathan would kill his mother. He almost did.

In April 1988 in a frenzied attack with a motor cycle chain, Jonathan knocked his mother through a glass door and battered her around the head and face until she was unconscious, unrecognisable and irreversibly brain damaged.

In July 1989 Jonathan was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm and ordered to be detained under the Mental Health Act. Now being treated for schizophrenia in Rampton Hospital, Nottinghamshire, for patients under special security, he is due in April for his annual hearing before a Mental Health Review tribunal.

His family expect him to be released this year or next into sheltered accommodation under the supervision of two psychiatrists. They are frightened at the prospect he will return to his roots. Since the system could not cope with him last time, they are not convinced it will in future.

(Photograph omitted)