Stabbed social worker had no warning of death threat

Mental health agencies failed to tell a social worker that a mental health patient had threatened to kill her shortly before he attacked her with a knife, a report has found.

Claire Selwood, who worked for Durham Council, was left seriously injured after being stabbed six times by Graham Burton during a meeting with Burton, his wife, and a children’s guardian at the school of one of his children. Two days before the October 2006 attack Burton told his psychiatrist he would kill Selwood if he saw her.

Burton was on leave from a psychiatric hospital at the time of the incident while care proceedings concerning all three of his children took place. Selwood was the allocated social worker for Burton’s daughter.

Burton was receiving in-patient mental health care from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust and community-based mental health care from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust prior to the attack.

He told mental health professionals that he had feelings of inner rage and admitted he had been violent towards others in the past. On several occasions, he expressed his dislike of a social worker identified as Selwood.

But there was a “complete failure” by health professionals to warn Selwood that threats had been made, an independent investigation panel report commissioned by the North East Strategic Health Authority found.

The report criticised the communication between mental health professionals and children’s social care services, and found mental health agencies failed to conduct a proper risk assessment for the children’s social worker.

Sue Taylor, chair of the panel, said: “The potential risk of Graham Burton causing harm to others was not fully recognised or acted upon by those professionals.

“The complete failure of those health professionals to communicate the fact that threats had been made directly towards Selwood denied Durham Council’s children’s social care [department] the opportunity to take steps to protect their employee, and Selwood was denied the opportunity to protect herself, with catastrophic results.”

The panel’s report made 13 recommendations, including better training and communication between agencies.

Gail Hopper, head of safeguarding at Durham Council, said the council had since worked with partner agencies to significantly improve risk management, information-sharing and communication. Both mental health trusts have apologised to Selwood and improved their services based on learning from internal reviews and the panel’s report.

Burton was imprisoned indefinitely in June 2007. He must serve a minimum of 11 years and eight months after being found guilty of attempted murder at Newcastle Crown Court. Selwood has since returned to work, according to the report.

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