Frances Cook is a Wellington based multimedia reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Whitby locals want mental health respite service moved after alleged kidnap attempt

The alleged incident happened on Exploration Way. Photo/Google Maps
The alleged incident happened on Exploration Way. Photo/Google Maps

Furious Wellington locals want a mental health facility out of their community, saying an attack on a 3-year-old girl wasn't the first worrying incident.

The young girl was walking with her father on Exploration Way, in the Porirua suburb of Whitby, when a man allegedly lunged and tried to snatch her.

The father had to grab his daughter and run for help, fighting off the man as he continued trying to grab the 3-year-old.

A 32-year-old man has since been arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping, and two counts of assault.

He has interim name suppression.

A public meeting was held last night, and organisers admitted they were worried locals might take matters into their own hands.

Many in the community want the facility moved away from the nearby Adventure School.

The father of the girl who was attacked, who requested his name not be used, said the family wanted the mental health facility moved to somewhere more suitable.

"We firmly believe that there is a certain amount of trust with a facility like that.

"It's key for people who need it.

"But some of the people coming through have not been assessed properly, and that is putting the community at risk."

Police and the mental health provider Pathways visited the father yesterday, and agreed to keep talking to him about his concerns.

They'd told him they would consider moving the facility to somewhere more appropriate.

"We want a 100 per cent guarantee that our community will be safe," the father said.

"We certainly agree that there's a need for it, but we've lost a lot of trust."

Pathways CEO Sally Pitts-Brown told the community she was attending the meeting to listen, but she also wanted to tell them more about what the respite care unit was used for.

"Most people treated at the respite house are there two to four days.

"We support them to reduce stress, have good meals.

"The evidence tells us that people recover better and more quickly, if they're in their own communities."

The community was frustrated, and made it clear they weren't happy with how the situation had been handled.

Alison Masters, Capital and Coast DHB medical director for mental health services, was explaining the system for assessing risk but was interrupted by a elderly woman from the audience.

"We're not interested in your problems.

"A little girl was hurt.

"How often do these errors of judgment happen, and does someone have to die before you do something?

"We're not interested in how hard it is and how long you've got to talk to them."

Her statement was meant with murmurs of agreement from the rest of the audience.

Andy, a local father and neighbour of the family allegedly attacked, made an emotional statement.

"For me as a dad, the issue is, can you guarantee the safety of my kids?

"My kids, who can't play outside now.

"My wife, who has to stay inside with the doors locked.

"It's not putting your patients first, either.

"Because now we see them as a risk. And we treat them differently."

The hall broke out into applause after he spoke.

Jo, a neighbour who was involved in last week's attack, said it wasn't a one-off extreme case.

She said she and three other friends had had serious encounters with patients, including one who went into a person's home, and another who stripped naked on their front lawn.

"None of these were recorded by Pathways, they weren't aware of them when we told them yesterday.

"We know that there's a range of people there, but it's hard to say they'll stay stable the whole time they're there.

"If they're walking around unsupervised, when something happens that sets them off like in this situation, what then?

"If you can't guarantee the risk, they should be somewhere that presents the least risk to the community."

After she was finished speaking, the MC also took the time to thank Jo for her bravery when she helped the girl and her father during last week's attack.

- NZ Herald

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