'Closure ... it means nothing'
The partner of a woman murdered by a hammer-wielding mental health patient says he will never get over what happened.
"Nearly two and a half years I've had to live with this and I just can't get any sort of peace at all," Gary Chadderton told The Waikato Times yesterday.
His companion Diane White, 53, was killed in her Frankton home in January 2010 in a "prolonged and frenzied attack" by her former neighbour, deaf woman Christine Judith Morris, 42.
In the High Court at Hamilton yesterday, Morris – whose name suppression was finally lifted – was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years.
Because of her complex psychological issues she will serve that time as a special patient, starting at Auckland's Mason Clinic where she has spent the past eight months.
If her condition improves, she may spend time in prison.
Yesterday's sentencing before Justice Andrews was peppered with interjections by Morris, and at one stage Mr Chadderton – Ms White's partner of 17 years – stormed out after telling Morris to "bloody rot in hell".
His frustration was still high when he spoke to the Times outside court.
"It'll be there for the rest of my life. Closure? It's just a word to me. It means nothing."
On January 13, 2010, Morris's five-month-old son was taken from her and placed in CYF care, and she admitted herself to the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre at Waikato Hospital the next day.
But after four days she climbed a fence and left the centre, heading back to her Blackburn St address on foot.
She left a note at a neighbour's house saying she had escaped from the centre and was going to kill Diane White.
Shortly afterwards she got a claw hammer from another neighbour's property and violently assaulted Ms White in her home.
She inflicted more than 15 lacerations to the top and back of her skull, as well as her nose, arms and hands. There were multiple skull fractures, as well as broken bones in her hands and arms consistent with defensive injuries
"You left her lying in a pool of blood," Justice Andrews said.
Ms White's son James and her sister came from England to read their victim impact statements in court and struggled to hold back tears as they described a quiet woman who never got to see her grandchildren.
Mr White said his mother's proudest moments were when he graduated, when he got married and when he told her his wife was pregnant.
She began saving for a trip to London but Ms White's murder came a month before her grand-daughter was born.
Mr White's second daughter was born a couple of weeks ago and he said what was supposed to be a joyful moment in his life was tarnished by the fact his mum could not share it with him.
"You took away my mother, you took away my daughters' grandmother and you took away the one person who was proud of me every day of my life," he said.
The delays in the court process had been horrendous for the family according to Mr White and he took a swing at all the services that had been involved in the process – police, social services and the New Zealand justice system.
"We've been dragged through two full years of hell," he said.
Defence counsel Bruce Hesketh raised the issue of provocation and highlighted a tense relationship between victim and prisoner, based around the perception of Morris's ability as a parent.
But Justice Andrews said there was nothing Ms White did that could have warranted the vicious attack.
Morris's mother embraced Ms White's family outside the court but was reluctant to comment, only saying she was glad her daughter was in care.
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICE 'FAILED MISERABLY'
The partner of a woman murdered by a patient who escaped from the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre says the mental health facility "failed miserably", but staff say they could not have predicted the attack.
Christine Judith Morris was a voluntary patient at the centre in January 2010 but she scaled a fence at the Waikato Hospital site two hours before killing Diane White.
Ms White's partner Gary Chadderton, told the Waikato Times he was "bloody devastated" with the minimum non-parole period of 10 years Justice Andrews handed down to Morris to in the High Court at Hamilton yesterday.
And Mr Chadderton laid into the services he said had failed the victim.
"Henry Bennett and all the others, they've failed miserably ... there were plenty of warning signs out there," he said.
"This could've been all stopped before the murder happened."
The Waikato District Health Board sought an independent review after the killing of Diane White, and yesterday revealed there were three areas requiring improvement.
Improved training in risk assessment and management, increased awareness of the policy on the observations of patients at risk and reviewing the open ward environment were all highlighted by a panel of senior clinicians.
Waikato DHB mental health and addictions director of clinical services Dr Rees Tapsell said each of the recommendations had been acted on but he emphasised that no-one could have predicted the tragedy, nor were any staff members found to have acted negligently or unprofessionally.
Morris's wide range of psychological issues also made the incident less predictable.
"It would be difficult to find somebody who presented with much more complexity," Dr Tapsell said.
It was "not uncommon" for patients to go absent without leave, he said, but preparing people to return to the community was a complicated business.
There was a possibility Morris would return to the centre but, after her conviction, Dr Tapsell said, she would be in a much higher security ward.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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