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Alarm raised before fires

A NZ Fire Service investigator inspects the remains of a house in Mauriceville burnt down by a woman detained as a special patient last week. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

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Police and district health board mental health services were warned a woman was mentally unstable three weeks before she burnt down two Mauriceville houses in one night last year.

Mauriceville School principal Rebecca Stevens said she contacted both agencies with concerns about the behaviour of the woman, who was given permanent name suppression in Masterton District Court last week and detained as a special patient.

She was found to be insane at the time she first burnt down her own home, and then the home of neighbours who had offered her a bed after the first fire.

Stevens said she was so concerned about the woman’s state of mind in the weeks before the fire that she contacted the police, who referred her to Wairarapa DHB.

“They told me that under the law they couldn’t do anything unless she had harmed herself or someone else.

“She was living in a house without power or water, and no phone, and no money for food – surely that amounts to self-harm?

“This didn’t need to happen – in this case the law is an ass.”

Rebecca Stevens, who contacted police about the arsonist. PHOTO/FILE

Stevens said she felt angry with the woman and the system, when she learned the woman had been declared insane at the time of the fires.

“I contacted the police because I was concerned – I didn’t think she would light fires but she was obviously not well.

“Unless there is a policy change, this could happen again.”

For Wairarapa, the Mental Health, Addictions and Intellectual Disability Service is managed across three DHBs – Wairarapa Capital and Coast, and Hutt Valley.

General manager Nigel Fairley would not comment on individual cases but said there were a range options if someone was concerned about an individual’s mental state, including a referral to the Crisis Resolution Service.

“Where required, our services can involve police.”

Involvement of the individual concerned, or their family, is the norm.

“Mental health support is a collaborative process where people are meaningfully involved in their recovery. “This means they or their family are generally involved in decisions around their treatment.”

Health Minister Dr David Clark declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said changes may be on the way.

“I’m expecting the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction to make comment on the suitability of the Mental Health Act when it reports back to me at the end of October.”

Senior Sergeant Mike Sutton of Masterton Police said he could not comment on engagement relating to the arsonist before the fires, or the current legislation.

“We will continue to work with mental health services to help and support people in need of help, whether that be in a time of crisis or just providing advice.”

The DHBs recommend anyone with concerns about a person’s mental health, to call the Te Haika Crisis Mental Health team for 24/7 advice.

“Te Haika staff assess the caller to determine whether further assessment and treatment is needed,” Fairley said.

“Typically, when a person experiences mental illness they are involved in decisions about their treatment. Our services strive to provide the highest level of care at the right time for people, their families and wider community.”

Te Haika is available on: 0800 745 477

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