No place left to feel safe

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2013
Elderly Hamilton woman
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

RECOVERING: An elderly Hamilton woman was allegedly sexually assaulted in her home by a mental health patient.

Relevant offers

Crime

Alleged king hit drops court security guard Scooter rider 'flashed' two women Racist Queenstown police officer resigns Teacher barred after indecent assault Fraudsters target elderly, say police Dogs broken out of pound face destruction What prisoners are having for Christmas lunch Rise and fall of financial adviser fraudster Tony Mount 'Disrespect' led to street brawl Phillip John Smith factsheet released

An elderly woman was allegedly sexually assaulted in her home by a mentally ill neighbour, raising questions over why she wasn't told she was living a short distance from a residential care facility.

The woman, who cannot be identified, only learnt she lived near the facility after a resident allegedly entered her home at night and assaulted her.

The Waikato Times understands her alleged attacker, who can't be named for legal reasons, was being cared for by Richmond Services.

Richmond Services provides community-based support to people with mental illnesses.

The man was later charged with burglary and assault with intent to commit sexual connection but the Times understands he was found unfit to stand trial and has been detained as a special patient.

Speaking exclusively to the Times, the woman said her attacker was not adequately supervised at the residence and would come and go "at all hours of the day".

"My fear is that if Richmond [Services] doesn't own up to what's happened here, then another woman or family will go through what I've been through," she said.

"I don't blame him [the attacker] because it was through ignorance that he did what he did to me.

"I'm just frustrated that his carers haven't taken more responsibility and made changes.

"I still see young men come and go from these units, and nobody seems to be watching over them. Big questions need to be asked of Richmond [Services]."

Richmond central divisional manager Bronwyn Williams said she was unable to provide any information about patients, citing client confidentiality.

She said the organisation's Hamilton services were under contract with the Waikato District Health Board and the board's community mental health team retained clinical oversight for clients.

"People in our Hamilton services are not under any orders to be detained and are legally free to move around the community as they choose," she said.

Richmond Services was also criticised when, in January 2010, mental health patient Christine Morris bludgeoned her former neighbour, Diane White, to death in her Frankton home.

Morris had been living at a Blackburn St residence with care allegedly provided by Richmond Services. Ms White's partner, Gary Chadderton, said both incidents raised red flags about the standard of care.

Mr Chadderton said he had tried to contact Richmond Services staff with concerns about Morris' behaviour but "they didn't want to know".

"Sometimes you wouldn't see any carers for a whole week and the whole time Christine Morris was in her own little flat. If people weren't checking to make sure she was taking her medication, what's the bloody point?"

Meanwhile, Hamilton City councillor Roger Hennebry said residents needed to know if they were living next door to people with mental health problems.

Under the city's operative district plan, all managed care facilities are required to notify neighbours of the type of care provided at the facility, although facilities established before November 10, 2011, are exempt.

Mr Hennebry said patients' rights had to be balanced against the need to keep residents safe.

Ad Feedback

"If someone with a mental health problem is living next to me or my family or friends, I think we've got a right to know that. It seems PC [politically correct] to focus on patients' rights but how about the resident who gets sexually assaulted or the resident who gets murdered by their neighbour; where are their rights?" he said.

"Unfortunately a lot of these healthcare agencies are hell-bent on getting these people into the community and there's a fine line between what's safe and what's not. You only have to go down Victoria St and see the homeless; a lot of these people have come out of mental health institutions without follow-up and they're just an accident waiting to happen."

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand chief executive Judi Clements said she didn't believe neighbours needed that information

"That is just perpetuating the notion that people with mental health issues are going to be problematic."

She said a 2009 Health Ministry survey showed 69 per cent of people were happy to have a person with experiences of mental illness living at a halfway house in their street.

"As a resident, you are actually more likely to have problems if you live next door to young men who drink."

Ms Clements said only a "very small percentage" of violent crimes were committed by people with serious mental illness.

RICHMOND SERVICES

A registered charity providing community-based mental health and disability support services to adults and youth, including accommodation support.

Established in 1978, with services provided in various locations nationwide.

Governed by a board of directors, with four operating divisions.

Philosophy based on the belief "people with mental health and disability issues can live full and rich lives in the community". 

FORGIVENESS 'PROPER CARE' NEEDED

 

She could so easily be anyone's grandmother.

She lives alone inside a house filled with knick-knacks, keepsakes and memories.

Perched at her little kitchen table, her folded hands seek out a warm square of sunlight as she talks of children grown, nurtured and gone. And of a wonderful husband, a "busy man" and keen gardener who died too soon.

Their framed black and white wedding photo hangs from a wall - a happy day frozen in an endless afternoon of now.

"My husband's on the other side now but I know he's still with me," she says.

"I know he's helped give me the strength to get through this ordeal and the last couple of years."

That ordeal came in the shape of a neighbourly acquaintance who in the early hours of March 8, 2011, allegedly entered her home through an unlocked door and sexually assaulted her.

She was asleep at the time, and on pain medication.

More than two years on, recalling the incident causes her hands to curl into a tight ball.

She slips into silence for a few moments.

"I try not to dwell on it too much because it would destroy me.

"I truly know that I've got to forgive him. You can't forget but you can forgive. If I don't forgive then it becomes a black mark on my soul."

But there are concerns; a fear something terrible may happen again - to her or another - if proper care isn't given to mental health patients living in the community.

"It's not fair on anyone if these people aren't given the care they need. They need to be looked after and watched over."

- Waikato Times

Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content