Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Hammer murder: Partner accepts police apology

The partner of Diane White, who was killed by her mentally ill neighbour, has applauded police for "bravely" admitting a tragic botched job.

But Gary Chadderton hopes lessons will be learned from his partner's needless death at the hands of an escaped mental health patient.

"I live in a big dark hole and while it's good to hear the police admit they stuffed up and were to blame, it still doesn't bring Diane back, does it?"

Police were told on January 19, 2010 that Christine Judith Morris, a deaf mental health patient at Waikato Hospital's Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre (HBC) had escaped, after threatening to kill Ms White.

Later that day, police found Ms White, 53, dead in her Hamilton home, bashed to death with a hammer.

Morris was convicted of murder last year and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years.

An investigation by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has now concluded that police could have prevented her death if they had responded appropriately.

About 10am on the morning of the killing an HBC worker faxed and phoned police about Morris' escape and threats to kill Ms White, but was unable to get through to the local station.

She eventually called 111 and spoke to the Police Northern Communications Centre.

At 11.13am two police officers were sent to Morris's address.

They were unable to find her, but spoke briefly with Ms White as she mowed her lawn, and advised her to call police immediately if she saw Morris. The officers then left.

Shortly afterwards police received a second call from the HBC advising that another neighbour, who was not named, had reported that Morris was with her and was making threats to harm Ms White.

A communications dispatcher mistook the information from this call as a repeat of the information from the first call, and subsequently no officers were dispatched.

At 12.19pm the neighbour called police to say Morris had just left her address.

After a few minutes she called again to say Morris had returned with blood on her face.

Officers arrived to discover that Ms White had been attacked and killed in her home with a blood-stained hammer found nearby.

They quickly found Morris and took her into custody.

The IPCA found the police had the information and the ability to prevent the death of Ms White if they had responded appropriately to the available information.

"The key failure was that officers were not sent to (the neighbours) address after the second call from the Henry Bennett Centre alerting police to the location of Ms Morris.

"If that had occurred, it is likely that Ms White's death would have been prevented."

The failure of the attending officers to conduct more extensive enquiries at the time of the first house visit; and the communicator's poor handling of the second call to police were "unreasonable and unjustified", the report said.

Assistant Commissioner Upper North, Allan Boreham today apologised to Ms White's family while accepting all of the IPCA findings.

But while Mr Chadderton, 75, was pleased police admitted their failures, he found them hollow words.

"It doesn't mean anything to me because if they had been doing their job bloody properly, it wouldn't have happened," he said.

"But it wasn't just the police. The hospital are just as much to blame. All down through the line it was just one big disaster."

The pensioner hoped police would urgently act on the report's recommendations to avoid another preventable tragedy.

Three years after the murder of his partner of 17 years, and Mr Chadderton is still struggling.

"Today brings it all back. Once a week, I go down to the Waikato river, where we put her ashes, and talk to her.... But I'm just a blank shell really."

- APNZ

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