Mental health charity fined £30,000 over support worker’s killing

A mental health charity has been fined £30,000 for failing to protect a support worker who was stabbed to death by a service user in 2006.

Ashleigh Ewing, 22, was killed in Newcastle in May 2006 during a home visit on behalf of Sunderland-based charity Mental Health Matters.

Yesterday the organisation apologised “unreservedly” after admitting breaching health and safety laws by allowing the psychology graduate to visit the service user on her own.

Ewing’s attacker, Ronald Dixon, who had paranoid schizophrenia, admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility in October 2007. He was ordered to be detained indefinitely at a high-security mental health facility and is currently at Rampton Secure Hospital.

In a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive, Newcastle Crown Court heard that Dixon’s mental health was known to be deteriorating and Mental Health Matters failed to respond to a number of warning signs.

The attack occurred exactly six months after Ewing had joined the charity – the final day of her probation period.

Pam Waldron, head of operations at the Health and Safety Executive, said the case demonstrated the importance for “employers to assess risks to employees who visit individuals in their homes and for arrangements to be reviewed when changes occur”.

“We believe that if Mental Health Matters had carried out a risk assessment, it would have resulted in the visiting arrangements being reviewed.”

The charity admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which requires employers to ensure the “health, safety and welfare at work” of staff.

In addition to the £30,000 fine, Mental Health Matters was also ordered to pay £20,000 in legal costs.

Ian Grant, chief executive of Mental Health Matters, apologised to Ewing’s family and colleagues for failing to ensure her safety.

“Ashleigh was a very popular colleague within her closely-knit team and words can’t express the sorrow we all continue to feel over the tragic event that took her from us,” he said.

“We apologise unreservedly for the failing that we have admitted.”

He added that the charity had cooperated fully with the HSE’s investigation and had addressed the “procedural failing” identified by the watchdog.

Grant said: “At no time has the HSE sought to suggest that the failure in procedures caused the appalling attack on Ashleigh, which all other health bodies involved suggest was entirely unforeseeable. We are encouraged that throughout this long process of intense examination, MHM has continued its work in offering support and care on a daily, round-the-clock basis to more than 1,200 individuals throughout the UK.”

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