Health and Safety Executive
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Mental health charity fined after death of support worker

Mental Health Matters Ltd, a North East-based registered charity has been fined £30,000 with costs of £20,000 after one of their employees was killed by a service user.

Ashleigh Ewing, a 22-year-old support worker employed by Mental Health Matters, was attacked and killed by service user Ronald Dixon.

Mental Health Matters provide support and housing services to people who suffer from mental health problems. They pleaded guilty to a charge brought by the Health and Safety Executive for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for failing to do all that was reasonably practicable to ensure Ms Ewing's safety.

Newcastle Crown Court heard that Ashleigh Ewing was visiting Ronald Dixon at his home in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne on 19 May 2006 when she was attacked and stabbed to death.

Ashleigh had started work with Mental Health Matters exactly six months prior to the date of her death. The attack occurred on the final day of her probation period.

The prosecution told Mr Justice Keith that Ashleigh's employment by Mental Health Matters exposed her to certain obvious risks, particularly in the context of her dealings with Mr Dixon. His mental health was known to be deteriorating and Mental Health Matters failed to respond to a number of warning signs. The court also heard that they failed to afford Ashleigh the level of protection that the nature of her job warranted.

Mrs Pam Waldron, HSE's Head of Operations said:

"This is an unusual case which shows the need for employers to assess risks to employees who visit individuals in their homes and for arrangements to be reviewed when changes occur.

"We believe that if Mental Health Matters had carried out a risk assessment, it would have resulted in the visiting arrangements being reviewed."

Notes to Editors:

  1. The service user, Ronald Dixon, who killed Ashleigh Ewing, pleaded guilty in October 2007 to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and is detained indefinitely at Rampton Secure Hospital.
  2. Working alone is not in itself against the law, and it will often be safe to do so. However, the law requires employers and others to think about and deal with any health and safety risks before people should be allowed to work alone. For more information about lone working http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg73.pdf
  3. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employee

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