When my husband Jonathan was killed in December 1992 by Christopher Clunis, I concentrated my efforts on making sure there was a full and proper inquiry into the case. I then approached North Thames Health Authority for compensation, implying that I was considering legal action against them for the consequences of their lack of care for Clunis.
I discovered to my horror that I had less chance of success than Clunis in an action for negligence. I have now heard that Clunis has been granted legal aid and is going ahead with his claim for damages against North Thames. The gist of it, as in the case of David Hoare, is that he would not be in Rampton if those responsible for his care had done their job properly. It raises the possibility of many other claims, including the other case reported this week, of John Rous, who is now in Broadmoor, and who killed the volunteer worker Jonathan Newby.
While it is possible to have some sympathy for the severely mentally ill who commit such horrific crimes as a direct consequence of the Government's failure to resource and monitor community care properly, their ability to win large amounts of compensation is a bitter pill to swallow. Having set up the Zito Trust to work for improvements in the provision of care for them, so that I and others do not end up bereaved, I am desperately seeking funds to enable the trust to represent those who have become victims of this policy.
I approached North Thames and asked for a "contribution", and got a flat negative response. I may still take the risk and sue North Thames because I believe the law of negligence is flexible enough to move with the times; or should I wait for Clunis to succeed and then sue him? Or ask him for a donation?
There is no doubt that patients need to be protected from themselves, so that their mental health does not deteriorate to the level where they are no longer in control. Taking legal action for damages is one way they can highlight the appalling mismanagement and lack of care they have suffered. They will, however, get very little sympathy from the public if this is to become a common feature of community care and its failings. Medical negligence cases are often horrifying enough, but at least there is a recognised structure and process for dealing with them. I doubt very much whether the implications of the Hoare case will meet with overwhelming approval, although there is something perversely gratifying about patients attacking acts of negligence in this way.
The writer is director of the Zito Trust.Reuse content