Durham social worker not told of death threats

HEALTH professionals failed to warn a social worker who was almost stabbed to death that a psychiatric patient had threatened to kill her on several occasions, an independent probe has revealed.

Claire Selwood, who worked for Durham County Council’s Children’s Social Care, was seriously injured when she was stabbed in the back six times with a kitchen knife by Graham Burton in October 2006.

Burton, now 44, of Murton, Seaham, County Durham, was jailed indefinitely at Newcastle Crown Court in June 2007 for attempted murder. He must serve a minimum of 11 years and eight months.

In an independent report by the North East Strategic Health Authority, investigators said the potential risk of Burton was not fully recognised or acted upon by medics and there was a complete failure to communicate the fact five separate threats had been made by him towards Ms Selwood.

While the panel were unable to conclude with “absolute certainty” the attack on Ms Selwood, now 40, of Chester-le-Street, could have been prevented, they said missing the opportunity to warn the mum-of-three was a clear failing.

At the time Burton was receiving inpatient mental health care from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and community-based mental health care from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust.

Sue Taylor, barrister and chairwoman of the investigation, said: “We found that there were many significant shortcomings in the treatment and healthcare of Graham Burton.

“Whilst we found it impossible to conclude with absolute certainty that this vicious and premeditated attack could have been prevented, we are resolute in our opinion that Graham Burton presented a very real risk to a person, a social worker involved with his family, which he had voiced on five separate occasions, and who was therefore easily identifiable as Claire Selwood.

“The potential risk of Graham Burton causing harm to others was not fully recognised or acted upon by those professionals in possession of information about it.

“The complete failure of those health professionals to communicate the fact that threats had been made directly towards Claire Selwood denied Durham County Council’s Children’s Social Care the opportunity to take steps to protect their employee, and Claire Selwood was denied the opportunity to protect herself, both with catastrophic results.”

Burton turned up at the school where Ms Selwood was holding a meeting. Without warning, he approached Ms Selwood from behind and stabbed her in the back.

He was a patient at Cherry Knowle Hospital, Sunderland, where he was being treated for depression and post traumatic stress disorder. He told doctors he would kill Ms Selwood.

Fortunately none of the wounds were life- threatening, but one of them missed her heart by millimetres and she has been left with permanent nerve damage to her lower limbs which has ruined her career. She has now left Durham County Council.

A total of 13 recommendations were made, including better communication between healthcare agencies and improved staff training. These have all been acted upon by both health trusts.

Dr Suresh Joseph, medical director at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Services in Sunderland have changed considerably since this dreadful incident four years ago and following an internal review we took immediate action to strengthen our mental health assessments to ensure that patients’ home and family circumstances are taken full account of.

“This has been supported by comprehensive staff training.

“We also introduced a new trust-wide electronic records management system. This has significantly improved the standard of record keeping, overall care management, communication and risk assessment – helping to foster better integration and ways of working within our clinical teams.”

Both health trusts have apologised for the incident.


THE panel’s main findings concluded that:

The potential risk of Burton causing harm to others was not fully recognised, or acted upon, by those professionals who knew about it;

There was complete failure by health professionals to communicate the fact that threats had been made by Burton directly towards Ms Selwood and in consequence the opportunity to prevent the attack was denied;

There was a failure by health organisations to work cohesively or communicate effectively with one another in the assessment, planning and delivery of Burton’s care;

There was a lack of acceptance of responsibility by health organisations for the delivery of the care package, as a whole, to Burton.