Patient seen leaving house bloodied

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 13:01 30/06/2014

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A missing mental health patient was seen leaving her Frankton, Hamilton, neighbour's house with bloodied clothing, an inquest has heard.

Diane Elizabeth White, 53, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer by her mentally ill neighbour, Christine Morris, on January 19, 2010.

The inquest began today before Coroner Peter Ryan in Hamilton, focussing on Morris's care she received while a patient at Waikato Hospital's mental health unit the Henry Bennett Centre (HBC) and police's involvement on the day White died.

Morris is serving a life sentence for murder with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years after being sentenced in 2012.

The inquest follows a damning Independent Police Conduct Authority report into the incident which revealed police could have prevented her death after they'd received several calls about Morris being missing from HBC. Three calls were made by HBC staff alone.

Hamilton police Sergeant Murray Stapp was first to take the stand this morning and said White and Morris, who lived on Blackburn St, Frankton, had an "acrimonious" relationship.

On January 13, Morris had her baby taken off her by Child, Youth and Family which she blamed on White.

Morris was upset and two days later she was formally admitted to the Henry Bennett Centre. On January 19 after a meeting with staff, it was decided Morris would be admitted for further treatment, as she had made threats to kill White.

Morris scaled a fence and fled the centre.

A fax was sent to police that Morris was missing and Stapp said a call was made to police at 11.07am that Morris was still absent from the hospital without leave.

In the meantime, Morris went back to Blackburn St and visited a neighbour where she had a cup of tea. Police were sent to the street at 11.10am but couldn't find her.

Another neighbour then rang police and gave them the address of where to find Morris.

Staff from the Henry Bennett Centre again called police at 11.30am.

Stapp said Morris left her neighbour's where she had a cup of tea and went to White's house "where they had an altercation that resulted in White being struck multiple times with a hammer".

A neighbour called police and said they had seen Morris leaving White's house at 12.19pm with her clothes covered in blood.

Police arrived at the scene at 12.40pm.

White's son, James, who is representing the family, questioned Stapp on using the word "altercation" which inferred there was a two-way fight involving his mother.

James White said that went against evidence that showed his mother had only been in a defensive position when her injuries were suffered.

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Stapp agreed stating "that's pretty well exactly what happened".

A Henry Bennett Centre staff member, whose name is suppressed, interviewed Morris just before she fled the centre.

The staff member said Morris became agitated and had made threats about White so it was agreed she would be admitted.

Morris wanted a cigarette so she was allowed to have one in the company of another staff member.

When questioned by Karen Rose, counsel for another HBC staff member, about his expectations of supervision, the man said Morris should have been taken on to the balcony for a cigarette and not out into the courtyard.

Fourteen witnesses are set down to give evidence over the next three days.

- Waikato Times

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