Man who saw schizophrenic brother kill father criticises mental health system

A man who witnessed his schizophrenic brother beat their father to death with a plumbing tool has criticised the failings of the mental health system that cared for his brother.

Robert Thorp, who saw the end of the attack in which his brother Richard killed his father Edward nearly six years ago, has secured a care package running into hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay for private treatment as a result of his post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Speaking after a legal settlement with the NHS trust responsible for his brother's care, Robert said witnessing the attack "ruined my life and I now struggle with mental health issues myself".

Months before the attack in February 2008, psychiatrists had withdrawn Richard's anti-psychotic medication and discharged him, despite family concerns about his behaviour. Richard had continued to be seen by the South West Yorkshire mental health trust, under whose care he had been since 2004.

Robert's father, who was married and had four children in all, had been leaving home for work when he was killed in Batley Carr, West Yorkshire. Richard said later he had "lost it" in the attack, which apparently took place because he had the delusional belief his father, a Jehovah's Witness, had harmed him.

Richard was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility at Leeds crown court in October 2008 and detained under the Mental Health Act at a "medium secure" facility run by South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS foundation trust.

According to Robert's lawyers, and court reports from the time, an expert witness at the trial said that Richard was paranoid, delusional, suffering from hallucinations and from chronic schizophrenia at the time of the killing. The trust had diagnosed him with depression.

Richard subsequently died from swine flu in January 2011, at the age of 28.

Robert, now 28, has not worked since the incident, and, say his lawyers, has lifelong depression and severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He said: "We repeatedly told Richard's psychiatrists that we believed he had schizophrenia because he would talk of voices in his head. However, it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

"When he came off his medication we became more and more worried about his behaviour and were surprised that more was not done to help him." Robert hopes that speaking about schizophrenia will encourage others to seek the help they need and show the importance of caring properly for patients.

According to Robert's lawyers, the trust did not admit that a duty of care had been owed to his father Edward, disputing that his death was caused by their care of Richard, but did admit to providing substandard care.

An independent investigation into the events leading up to Edward's death, conducted by the Health and Social Care Advisory Service at the request of the NHS, was completed in 2011 and found a number of failings that contributed to health services for Richard being "less effective than might reasonably be expected".

But it did not conclude that any of them had a direct causal relationship with the attack on Edward.

Among the shortcomings were a lack of systemic and comprehensive care, appropriate psychological interventions, and help to address Richard's misuse of alcohol. There were failures to appropriately assess the risk to Richard or his carers, involve his family in a formal and systematic manner, or seek an appropriate relationship with the local Jehovah's Witness community that might have informed clinical interventions.

The report also said the trust and partner organisations did not follow safeguarding policies while responsibilities of mental health services and the housing association in whose property he lived, except for three periods as an inpatient in 2004 and 2005, were blurred.

James Thompson, of lawyers Irwin Mitchell, said: "The trust has admitted an appalling catalogue of errors in relation to the care Richard was given, errors which we say ultimately compromised the family's safety with horrendous consequences … Schizophrenia is a disorder which can be controlled, but not cured.

"It is important that the trust now shows the training and support has been provided to their staff to ensure that they are able to make the correct diagnosis, maintain it and provide appropriate and regular treatment. It is essential that they appreciate the risk of relapse both to the diagnosis and the particular patient to ensure adequate follow up."

Thompson hoped the settlement would provide the necessary funds to access the specialist help Robert "desperately needs" to allow him to begin the process of rebuilding his life.

Tim Breedon, director of nursing, clinical governance and safety at the trust, said Richard's care and treatment were thoroughly investigated internally and by an external agency and recommendations had all been implemented.

He said: "The trust reiterates sincere sympathies to those affected by this tragic case.The investigation made a number of recommendations to support improved care which have all been implemented.

"These included improved staff training around risk assessment and risk processes, improved access to psychological therapies; the development of information for service users and carers about how their needs will be assessed and how this will inform an agreed plan of care; and the implementation of clear procedures between the trust, commissioners and partners, including housing associations, to ensure information sharing protocols are followed at all times."

Breedon added: "The trust continues to review services to ensure we respond to service user and carer feedback and offer high quality services that support people to live well in their community."


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