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Killer detained indefinitely

The crash site in Carterton, last year. PHOTO/FILE

‘A very real risk to public safety’:

The man found not guilty of the murder of the Rev Jenny Henson due to insanity will be detained at a Ministry of Health facility indefinitely.

Trevor Shirkey appeared at the Wellington High Court for a final disposition hearing on Friday morning, where two psychiatrists told the court they believed hospitalisation of the 48-year-old was necessary.

Professor Graham Mellsop said it was in the public interest that Shirkey was detained as a “special patient”.

“It’s almost inevitable that without appropriate treatment that Mr Shirkey will have future episodes of his bipolar disorder,” Mellsop said.

Shirkey had experienced three episodes in five years, during which he had demonstrated “what might be called cavalier driving”, the court was told.

Psychiatrist Dr Justin Barry-Walsh gave similar reasoning, and noted although use of medication would reduce the risk of relapse, Shirkey’s previous offending and substance misuse made treatment more complicated.

“I think that if he was under the care, just under the Mental Health Act, I don’t think that provides an adequate level of oversight.”

On July 9, Justice Rebecca Ellis acquitted Shirkey on a charge of murder due to insanity, although he had “undoubtedly” killed Henson.

She noted releasing Shirkey into the community would pose “a very real risk to public safety”, as his bipolar episodes were characterised by “impulsivity and aggression”.

“Evidence suggests that return to the community would result in exposure to the same psycho-social stressors,” she said.

“It would be in the best interests of not only the community, but also you Mr Shirkey, for you to be made a special patient.”

Although the usual routes to driving disqualification were not available because Shirkey had been found not guilty, his indefinite hospitalisation meant he would not be able to drive, she said.

Kevin Preston, who represented Shirkey, said his client had asked him to convey his remorse to the court and Henson’s family, some of whom attended the hearing.

“He very much shares the sense of loss, in fact, met her on one occasion, he recalls,” Preston said.

“He is accepting the order being set by Crown.

“He has no desire for a relapse … hopes obviously that he remains well.”

Henson, 76, died at the scene of a three-car crash at the intersection of High St South [State Highway 2] and Pembroke St on June 19 last year, when Shirkey pulled on to the wrong side of the road and drove at over twice the 50kmh speed limit into her car.

One of Henson’s daughters, Kirsty van de Geer, read a victim impact statement at Friday’s hearing, describing the impact the nurse and Anglican reverend had on the community.

“It is hard to put into words the loss that we feel for our mum, grandmother, sister,” van de Geer said.

“She was, until her last day, an active member of the community.

“Her loss was devastating to not just our family but also to the people of Carterton.

“Every pass through Carterton there are fresh flowers left at the crash site.”

The family had struggled to find meaning in the “sudden and violent” manner of Henson’s death, van de Geer said, but found consolation in the thought that she was with the God she so loved.

“Grief is not a linear process that has an ending … even a year after her death the grief continues to crash into our lives.

“We can only hope that Mr Shirkey can face the truth of his actions … we look to him to take responsibility.

“Our greatest hope is that this tragedy is not repeatable.”

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