No urgency in patient's escape

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 13:26 03/07/2014

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A mentally ill woman who had threatened to kill her neighbours rolled a cigarette and "wandered around" before fleeing Waikato Hospital's mental health facility, a Hamilton inquest was told today.

Phillipa Barton, a former registered nurse at the mental health facility, the Henry Bennett Centre, said that Christine Morris, who is profoundly deaf, walked out of the building looking upset and agitated.

Barton was giving evidence on day four of the inquest into the death of Diane Elizabeth White, 53, on January 19, 2010.

White was murdered by patient Morris.

Barton said Morris had sat down next to her and rolled a cigarette and Barton had asked Morris what was wrong.

"She didn't want to talk to me and I approached her again and said 'what's up?' and she swore at me, did the finger, stood up and walked away from me," Barton said.

She continued to approach Morris who continued to ignore her, before Morris walked up to the perimeter gate and started shaking it.

Morris again told Barton to "get out of her face" so Barton left to find someone else to help calm Morris down.

As she walked away Morris was walking to the fence. Barton returned with two other nurses, and walked towards Morris who then quickly jumped over the wire fence into the car park.

Barton believed Morris was in the courtyard/fence area for about 5 minutes before she fled.

During questioning from Waikato District Health Board counsel Paul White, Barton said she had had no idea Morris had just threatened to kill her neighbours. Barton learned of the threats only after Morris had fled.

"In the lounge I found Christine Christiansen [Morris' carer] and [nurse] Charlotte Jacobs," Barton said.

"We were talking for a little while because I sat down on the couch. I can't remember if it was Christine or Charlotte who said that [Morris] had threatened to kill her neighbours and I jumped off the couch and said 'come on, we need to start AWOL [absent without leave] procedures'."

However, Barton appeared to clam up when asked by Morris' lawyer, Anthony Rogers, about the frequency of clients jumping over the perimeter fence.

"I'm not sure, I can't answer that, I'm not sure," Barton said.

Philip Crayton, counsel for the police, asked Barton if she should expect to see someone like Morris, who had just threatened to kill people, roaming around the courtyard by herself.

"No," Barton replied.

Barton said the duress system - press of a button - could have been activated, other staff could have been informed of Morris' threats or the external doors could have been locked.

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The inquest, before coroner Peter Ryan, continues.

- Waikato Times

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