Patients hop fence of mental health centre regularly, inquest hears

Last updated 05:00 03/07/2014

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An inquest has heard that it is common for patients to escape over the fence of a Waikato Hospital mental health facility.

Giving evidence on day three of an inquest into the murder of Diane Elizabeth White,  former Henry Bennett Centre registered nurse Charlotte Jacobs said patients scaled the perimeter fence ''regularly''.

However, when pressed by lawyer Anthony Rogers, representing convicted murderer Christine Morris, to expand on what she meant by ''regularly'', Jacobs said she could not comment.

The inquest, before coroner Peter Ryan in Hamilton, is focusing on the police response and the care of Morris,  a mental health patient who murdered White on   January 19, 2010.

The coroner  asked Jacobs whether Henry Bennett Centre staff were concerned   there was a history of patients ''absconding'' over the facility's fence.

Jacobs said that as ward 34 was regarded as an ''open ward'', it was ''not a prison so quite often people would go walkabout''. 

Ryan questioned whether there was any discussion among staff about the lack of security.

''That probably has been discussed with management but I think that's always a concern that's kind of a management issue,'' Jacobs said.

In her evidence, Jacobs  said Morris' face went ''bright red and she started punching her hands'' and threatened to kill White just before she escaped over the fence. 

Jacobs' colleague, who has name suppression, said she   suggested they take a break to give Morris ''some space'' to calm down.

Jacobs said she was in the medication room when she saw Morris walk past.

She grabbed Morris' medication  and  went to find her when she  bumped into Christine Christiansen, the carer and unofficial interpreter for Morris, who is profoundly deaf.

Jacobs asked where  Morris had gone  before another nurse told them Morris had left.

The coroner questioned Jacobs why she did not immediately chase after Morris as she saw her walk out of the building.

Jacobs accepted that, in hindsight, they should have followed Morris.

The inquest will continue until Friday.

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