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Family of murdered dog walker criticise 'unfathomable' mistakes in killer's mental health treatment

PUBLISHED: 07:39 08 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:01 08 November 2019

Peter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

Peter Wrighton. Picture: Norfolk Constabulary

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The granddaughter of a Norfolk man murdered by a mental health patient has said she felt she was "in a horror film" because of "unfathomable" mistakes made by the mental health trust.

Peter Wrighton's family give a statement outside Nottingham Crown Court on February 28 after a jury convicted Alexander Palmer of murdering Mr Wrighton.Peter Wrighton's family give a statement outside Nottingham Crown Court on February 28 after a jury convicted Alexander Palmer of murdering Mr Wrighton.

Peter Wrighton, 83, was murdered by former soldier Alexander Palmer in August 2017 with injuries so severe police initially thought it was an attack by a wild animal.

Mr Wrighton had been walking his dog in a wood near East Harling when the then 24-year-old approached him from behind and stabbed him around 45 times.

Aerial photo of the scene at East Harling where Peter Wrighton was killed. Photo: Norfolk ConstabularyAerial photo of the scene at East Harling where Peter Wrighton was killed. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

Palmer, who had been in the care of the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health trust (NSFT), had admitted to health care professionals he wanted to kill a stranger.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Wrighton's granddaughter Meg Todd said the trust made "unfathomable" mistakes in Mr Palmer's care.

Killer Alexander Palmer. Photo: Norfolk ConstabularyKiller Alexander Palmer. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

The 22-year-old said: "It felt like I was in a horror film because of the increasingly horrendous details that were told to us.

"There were lots of small things that built up to be a massive failing. It was a let down for my family and all families involved. It was a snowball effect. It makes me wonder about the people who fall through the cracks."

She said the big issue for the family was that Palmer was discharged without the involvement of the leading doctor.

Ms Todd added: "The big thing that shocked my mum and I was the large amount of people involved in the case which meant disjointed treatment.

"It has had a massive impact on my whole family. There is a gap left."

Ms Todd went to a review meeting with the NSFT which left her with "mixed feelings."

She was not made aware that the NSFT had been placed in special measures and called for more honesty and transparency.

"I'm sure their resources are stretched and they don't have enough staff but when someone is presenting such a serious case - there aren't really any words for it, to not have a doctor," Ms Todd said.

NSFT undertook a review of its involvement in the case but an initial request for a copy under the Freedom of Information Act was refused.

However, following a second request the trust released three sections of the report - its recommendations, action plan, and actions taken since the killing.

The review found "weaknesses" in the handling of Palmer's last episode of care - including a "lack of clarity" about the assignment of a care co-ordinator.

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The review said "discharges should be discussed in the team meeting where a doctor is usually present, but [it was] acknowledged that the treating doctor was not in attendance at the meeting when the discharge of this case was discussed".

Ms Todd said the fact Palmer's doctor was not at the meeting "seems a fundamental oversight".

NSFT said it does not discuss patients publicly but will be making contact with the family to arrange a meeting.

Palmer, of Freesia Way, Cringleford, is serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 28 years.

His murder trial heard he had a "desire to kill strangers - dog walkers seemed to be a particular bugbear of his" and had told hospital staff he intended to hurt someone.

The health trust had been warned by Palmer's parents that he was collecting knives and not taking his medication.

Ms Todd said: "It just seemed unfathomable that it had been allowed to happen that way.

"Someone knew that he had said he wanted to kill dog walkers specifically, [he had] extreme symptoms and the fact that he was clearly dangerous.

"That is what shocked us most, how things hadn't been done in reaction to that.

"Honestly, it seemed like something out of a film, like the Zodiac Killer or something."

She said: "It was good having the meeting and good getting the report… but I do feel like it would have been better to have honest and frank chat as opposed to them trying to cover their backs."

Ms Todd said she was "shocked" to learn Palmer had been discharged via a text message.

But she said she believed the trust had made steps towards improving systems for the better, such as reducing the number of people involved in each patient's care, but added "whether that is enforced is another matter".

She also acknowledged Palmer did not want to receive treatment, and said: "There's only so much you can do with someone who is as evil as he appears to be."

An NSFT spokesman said the trust wished "to express our condolences and deepest sympathy" to Mr Wrighton's family and friends.

He added: "We shared as much information with Mr Wrighton's family as we were able to within the confines of our legal obligations in respect of patient confidentiality.

"We are disappointed and saddened that the family has concerns relating to our organisation and would welcome an opportunity to discuss them directly with them.

"Along with all NHS organisations, we would never discuss such concerns publicly but we will be making contact with Mr Wrighton's family to arrange a meeting so these can be fully examined and investigated."

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