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Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

Mental health charity fined over employee knife death

Monday, 1 February 2010

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8491026.stm

A mental health charity has been ordered to pay £50,000 for failing to protect a graduate who was stabbed to death by a paranoid schizophrenic.

Mental Health Matters employee Ashleigh Ewing, 22, was found dead in Ronald Dixon’s Newcastle home in 2006.

Dixon, then 35, later denied murder, but admitted manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The Sunderland-based charity admitted health and safety breaches and was fined £30,000, with £20,000 costs.

Newcastle Crown Court was told the charity was aware Dixon had a history of violence and refusing to take his medication.

Nonetheless, they sent the Northumbria University psychology graduate, from Hebburn, South Tyneside, to visit him alone at the house in Heaton.

She was stabbed 39 times with four different kitchen knives.

Dixon was jailed indefinitely in 2007

Prosecutor Kevin Donnelly said Miss Ewing’s death was not caused by Mental Health Matters but that further risk assessments and training should have been carried out in order to protect her.

He said: “The prosecution does not suggest that Ashleigh Ewing’s death at the hands of Ronald Dixon was an event that could or should have been foreseen.

“Mental Health Matters failed to identify and respond to the increasing risks to which Ashleigh Ewing was exposed in the course of her employment.”

But he added: “It cannot be said that the failings of Mental Health Matters caused Ashleigh Ewing’s death.”

The court was told that there was no guarantee Miss Ewing would not have been killed had risk assessments been carried out, but that the likelihood could have been reduced.

The judge, Mr Justice Keith, said: “The fact that a life has tragically been lost is a fact which must be reflected in the level of the fine.

“But it goes without saying that nothing can compensate for the loss of Ashleigh’s life, which is of course precious.”

James Maxwell-Scott, defending, said: “Mental Health Matters wishes to apologise unreservedly to her family and the court for the failing which it admits.

“Mental Health Matters is deeply sorry that this tragedy occurred and its thoughts and sympathies are first and foremost with the family.”

In a statement, Miss Ewing’s family said: “It was tragic that she had to pay with her life so that lessons could be learned which might saves lives in the future.”

Pam Waldron of the Health and Safety Executive said: “While Mental Health Matters had procedures in place, paperwork doesn’t save lives. Those procedures and policies have got to be followed through.”

Following his trial in October 2007, Dixon was detained indefinitely.

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