A mental-health charity has been fined £30,000 for failing to protect an employee who was stabbed to death by a paranoid schizophrenic man.
Ashleigh Ewing, 22, a support worker for Mental Health Matters, was attacked and killed by service user Ronald Dixon. The charity had been offering support to Dixon to help him cope with day-to-day tasks, after he had been discharged under the Mental Health Act.
On 19 May 2006, Ashleigh made a routine visit to Mr Dixon’s flat, where she presented him with a letter, informing him that he owed the charity money for smashing a payphone, and stealing the money that was inside. Dixon then attacked Ashleigh and stabbed her 39 times. He later handed himself into the Police and told them that Ashleigh’s body was in his flat.
Dixon had a history of delusional behaviour and was risk-assessed by psychiatrists before being released back in to the community in February 2006. The assessment noted a number of risk factors that could trigger erratic behaviour, including not taking his medication, poor management of personal finances, drinking alcohol, and not engaging with carers.
The HSE’s investigation discovered that the charity was aware of this assessment and that Mr Dixon was refusing to take his medication, and drinking regularly, in the weeks prior to the attack. The charity failed to respond to these warning signs and allowed Ashleigh to visit Dixon unaccompanied.
HSE inspector Pam Waldron revealed that Ashleigh had only been working for Mental Health Matters for six months prior to the attack, and said that the charity had not taken suitable steps to protect her. She said: “This is an unusual case, which shows the need for employers to assess risks to employees who visit individuals in their homes, and for arrangements to be reviewed when changes occur.
“We believe that if Mental Health Matters had carried out a risk assessment, it would have resulted in the visiting arrangements being reviewed.”
Mental Health Matters appeared at Newcastle Crown Court on 1 February and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.
In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and has subsequently reviewed its policies and procedures. This review highlighted that it had sufficient procedures in place but these had not been correctly implemented and monitored.
A statement from the charity said: “We apologise unreservedly for the failing that we have admitted. The internal investigation launched following Ashleigh’s death more than three years ago identified the procedural failing that formed the basis of the HSE prosecution. This was addressed immediately and is subject to stringent and on-going monitoring.”
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