Care in the community is put to the test

Two health authorities are in the dock accused of negligence by the mother of a child murdered by a psychopath. Roger Pearson reports. A major test case over health authorities' liability for the actions of mentally ill patients they release back into the community is to go to the High Court.

The mother of a four-year-old who was sexually assaulted and then murdered is suing two health authorities for negligence. She claims that they were responsible for releasing her daughter's killer back into the community.

The action launched by Beverley Palmer, whose daughter, Rosie, was murdered in June 1994, is believed to be the first ever action of its kind.

She is suing Tees Health Authority and Hartlepool and East Durham NHS Trust. She claims that Shaun Armstrong, who abducted Rosie and then assaulted and murdered her, was a psychopath and should never have been released back into the community by the health authorities from Hartlepool General Hospital where he was diagnosed as having a psychopathic personality.

She claims that if the authorities had paid proper attention to the signs and claims made by Armstrong when he was in their care, they would not have released him.

Palmer claims they failed to recognise that there was a substantial and foreseeable risk of Armstrong committing serious sexual offences against children and of causing serious injury to any children he attacked.

She alleges they failed to go into Armstrong's background properly, failed to pay proper regard to the fact that he had demonstrated a potential for violence, and failed to pay proper regard to the fact that he was the product of incest between his mother and maternal grandfather and had himself been sexually abused by his mother.

She additionally alleges that they failed to take notice of claims made by Armstrong that he had mutilated dead bodies while serving in the Falklands and things he had said to nursing staff while in hospital.

Palmer is seeking damages on behalf of her daughter's estate in respect of the suffering she went through before she died. She also seeks damages for herself in respect of post-traumatic stress disorder she says she has suffered as a result of what happened.