Killer’s Psychiatric Care Panned

{mosimage}The killing of a man by a violent paranoid schizophrenic was the result of “an appalling catalogue of errors”, health bosses have admitted.

John Barrett repeatedly stabbed Denis Finnegan, 50, as he cycled in Richmond Park, south-west London, in 2004.

Poor communication and a lack of monitoring contributed to his escape from hospital, according to an independent inquiry report for the NHS.

Barrett pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was jailed for life in March 2005. He had absconded from Springfield Hospital in Tooting, south London, the night before the killing in September 2004.

{mosimage}Barrett had been granted an hour’s “ground leave” from the Shaftesbury Clinic, a secure unit, but failed to return.

The decision to give him that freedom by consultant psychiatrist Dr Gill Mezey was described by the inquiry as “seriously flawed”.

On leaving the hospital, 43-year-old Barrett bought numerous kitchen knives, took a taxi to Richmond Park and repeatedly stabbed Mr Finnegan, because he said he heard voices commanding him to kill.

The inquiry, commissioned by the South West London Strategic Health Authority, was chaired by mental health solicitor Robert Robinson.

The finding said: “We do not say it was predictable that John Barrett would experience command hallucinations telling him to kill, but the risk of serious violence associated with deterioration in his mental state was known.

“We conclude that one of the factors that contributed to the killing of Denis Finnegan was that John Barrett’s illness was inadequately treated.”

The inquiry went on to question whether the Shaftesbury Clinic should even remain open as a secure unit.

The 400-page report gave details of Barrett’s former violent history when he stabbed three people at a clinic in St George’s Hospital in 2002.

Peter Houghton, who became chief executive of George’s Mental Health NHS Trust after the killing, apologised to members of Mr Finnegan’s family saying the trust was ‘deeply’ sorry.

He told a press conference the death was a result of an “appalling catalogue of errors”.

“This is one of the worst reports, most critical reports, one of the most damning reports I have read in the past 10 to 12 years,” he said.

He went on: “It beggars belief that John Barrett, who was a restricted patient under the responsibility of the Home Office for a very serious offence of violence, in which he very nearly killed a man in 2002, should have been granted a conditional discharge by a mental health review tribunal as early as 2003.”

The report said Barrett’s Responsible Medical Officer (RMO) did not even attend the hearing, nor were the Home Office’s objections taken into account.

Mr Houghton asked the government to review how the mental health tribunals work.

Anne Mackie, deputy director of public health for NHS London, said: “In the last two years, a great many changes have taken place to improve the performance of the trust [George’s Mental Health NHS Trust] and the trust’s forensic service.

“However, there is still much to be done and both NHS London and the trust are committed to learning everything we can from the inquiry report.”

Mr Finnegan, 42, lived in Putney, south-west London, but was originally from Doncaster in South Yorkshire.