Woman may have lived if mental health workers knew of relationship with killer, coroner concludes

A woman’s life may have been saved if mental health workers had not missed her relationship with a convicted killer because they were “entirely reliant” on him reporting it, a coroner has concluded.

Theodore Johnson murdered 51-year-old Angela Best at his north London home on December 15 2016 after she ended their 20-year relationship and met another man.

Johnson (pictured), who had two previous manslaughter convictions for killing his wife in 1981 and another former partner in 1992, spent less than five years in a secure north London mental health hospital before he was let out in October 1997.

He was released on the condition he would tell supervising doctors and social workers if he formed any new relationships, which he repeatedly failed to do, even though he had already been seeing Ms Best for a year.

The inquest heard he beat her with a claw hammer and strangled her with a dressing gown cord after she went to his flat to help him with a passport application.

Senior Coroner Mary Hassell determined at St Pancras Coroner’s Court on Thursday afternoon that Ms Best had been “unlawfully killed” by Johnson.

She said that mental health officers had considered Johnson a “low risk” at the time of his release from the hospital, unless he entered a relationship with a woman.

Ms Hassell continued: “The reason their relationship was not detected was because mental health officers were entirely reliant on his self disclosure.

“No person or organisation had the role, reputation or power to investigate that adherence.”

She said that had mental health officers stepped in, Ms Best may have looked to get “specialist support to end the relationship”.

Ms Hassell concluded: “If this had been the case, the outcome would have probably been different.”

Addressing Ms Best’s family members, she said: “I’m so very, very sorry for your loss.”

In September 1994, Johnson was allowed out of a psychiatric unit for the first time on escorted community parole.

In mid-1995, he was given unescorted leave to spend two days a week at a City and Guilds course on furniture restoration.

It was there in 1996 that he met Ms Best, who had moved to Tottenham, north London, from Manchester.

The mother of four and grandmother only found out he had killed before when she came across letters at his home and confronted him.

However, it was heard that just two unannounced visits took place at Johnson’s address, and that he had repeatedly denied being in a relationship.

Ahead of the coroner’s determinations, the inquest heard from Dr Shamir Patel, clinical director of specialist services at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, who outlined the steps taken to release patients.

Asked by the coroner if it had been realistic to rely on Johnson’s self-assessment, Dr Patel replied: “In this case it was unrealistic as there had clearly been a level of deception over a period of time.”

Dr Patel, who did not oversee the facility at the time of Johnson’s release in 1997, said: “Certain things we can do and certain things we can’t.

“In terms of mental health specifically, we are not in a position to break doors and arrive unannounced.

“Unannounced visits aren’t common, they’re considered quite intrusive.”

The coroner asked if it is still possible for them to be deceived by a mental health patient.

Dr Patel replied: “I can’t suggest it won’t happen again, it could happen again. I wouldn’t be comfortable in suggesting it couldn’t happen again at all.”

Last week the inquest heard from Ms Best’s sister Lorraine Jones, who spoke of being “extremely angry” over the lack of protection.

She said there were missed opportunities, a “severe lack of professional curiosity” and a “lack of supervision and accountability”.

Ms Jones said in her statement to the inquest: “We feel it’s simply not good enough to have relied repeatedly on TJ’s (Johnson) self-reporting.”

She said there was an “absence of planning” by authorities, adding: “The guidelines were clear. There should be unannounced visits.”

The inquest had also heard from Margaret Cross, who was a social worker and Johnson’s social supervisor at Camden and Islington NHS Trust from 2011.

The coroner asked Ms Cross if the monitoring function of the service was “fit for purpose” if she did not have the ability to discover whether Johnson was having a relationship unless he told her, and she said: “No.”

In 2018, Johnson was jailed for life at the Old Bailey and ordered to serve at least 26 years for Ms Best’s murder.

His sentence was later increased to 30 years.

The inquest was attended virtually by counsel and family members.

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