Protest for parents of autistic children after Donella Knox sentencing

Ruby Knox, left, with her mother Donella, the week before Ruby was killed.
SELINA POWELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Ruby Knox, left, with her mother Donella, the week before Ruby was killed.

A woman sent to prison for killing her daughter has inspired a protest calling for better support for parents of autistic children.

​Donella Knox was sentenced to four years in jail for the murder of her 20-year-old daughter Ruby on May 16 last year.

Knox's close friend Sharna Butcher is organising a protest to raise awareness of the challenges Knox faced as Ruby's sole caregiver.

"I know of parents in a similar situation all over New Zealand, who want to harm themselves and their children because they've had enough," Butcher said.

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"So we're going to take to the streets and rally now, to try and prevent what happened to Donella happening again."

The protest had been in the works since Knox was arrested and charged last year, but strict name suppression orders prevented Knox's supporters from going public.

However, suppression orders were lifted when the sentencing appeal period ended on Friday.

A date had not been decided, but Butcher hoped it would coincide with Autism Awareness Week from April 3.

Knox should not have been imprisoned for Ruby's murder, Butcher said.

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"The only reason she's in prison today is because the system failed her. If she'd had enough support, Ruby would still be alive. It hurts me deeply that she's in there."

Butcher was one in a close group of friends who supported Knox in the years before Ruby's death.

"We tried to help her and give her support, but it was hard. We've all got our own kids, so we would get someone to look after our kids so we could look after Ruby and give Donella a bit of a break. But it was hard. She'd get violent, and we're not qualified carers."

Knox struggled to find carers willing to look after Ruby, who was tall and heavy.

People had suggested Knox get counselling, but it was difficult to arrange when there was no-one else to look after Ruby, Butcher said.

Knox should have had better mental health support as well as medical support, she said.

"It's not just one agency, it's across the board that failed her. There needs to be better communication between agencies and specialists, there needs to be more funding for carers and more qualified people in Blenheim to do it."

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 - The Marlborough Express

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