The tragic mistakes that sealed the fate of Zak Bennett-Eko

Zak Bennett-Eko killed his son and was found guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The presiding judge at the Lowry Nightingale Court had one important question of his own – exactly how did it come to this?

There were some answers revealed in court, as three psychiatrists took to the witness box to try and make sense of the incomprehensible.

They told a story of a severely mentally ill man – aware of his spiralling condition – ‘slipping through the net’ and being ‘failed by the system’ at every turn, to use the judge’s own words.

Zak Bennett-Eko was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 12, jurors were told.

By the time he was 15, in 2014, his mental health concerns had become so serious he was sectioned.

The teenager would be confined to a secure adolescent psychiatry unit, the Gardener Unit, for 17 months.

When he left the unit, Bennett-Eko was prescribed with a year-long ‘care in the community plan’, where he would be seen by specialist mental heath care practitioners who were aware of his complicated history, and just how serious his condition was.

But, once that plan was completed, he had no contact from community mental health care teams at all.

Just why there was no follow up from mental health care teams, there remains no clear answer. 

From the moment his care plan lapsed in February 2017, Bennett-Eko was discharged from community mental health care and left in the care of his GP – for no apparent reason, one psychiatrist told the court.

Though he had regular appointments with the doctor, Bennett-Eko was a young man with a learning disability without the words to articulate the nature of his illness.

He had also started using cannabis, which had ‘eased some of the symptoms of his condition’, but ultimately ‘probably made things worse’ – again, without understanding what this drug use would mean for his mind.

He would be faced with a GP, without the specific training to successfully deal with a case as bad as his, said one psychiatrist who now cares for the young man. 

The discharge was slammed by both the judge and those who now treat Bennett-Eko as one of the most disturbed patients at Ashworth high security hospital for mentally ill criminals.

Bennett-Eko is likely to remain there for life.

Dr John Crosby, the 23-year-old’s treating clinician, told the judge as he considered Bennett-Eko’s sentence: “Bennett-Eko was discharged from community mental health services.

“It is very rare someone is admitted to an adolescent secure unit – someone who has that sort of history should never have been discharged.

“Looking back at his notes, I have never really found a reason for that decision. It is a big ask for someone with such complex issues to go to a GP and explain what is going on.

“I don’t think a GP would have an understanding of mental illness to manage something like that in the community.”

“Dr Crosby, your treating clinician at Ashworth, describes that transfer from the community mental health team as a mistake. It clearly was,” added Judge Fraser, gravely.

The judge addressed Bennett-Eko, though he was not present in court, as he sentenced him to a hospital order which would confine him to a secure prison hospital.

“The regular trips you made to A&E show that you made genuine and sustained attempts to seek professional help,” said Judge Fraser.

“You were trying, as best you could in this respect, and you expressly asked to be sectioned.

“Your difficulties in communicating would have made it a lot more difficult for doctors in a busy A&E department to recognise your mental state, and sadly, on each occasion you presented at the hospital the help you needed was not available.

“You have serious medical conditions requiring urgent, intensive and long-term treatment.

“However, it is not the only failure of the system in your case. You seem to have slipped through the net in terms of care for your mental illness, which with hindsight was far more serious than was realised at the time.”

Bennett-Eko was on a number of medications throughout his life, but in the months leading up to the psychotic episode that led to the death of his child, he had stopped picking up his prescriptions and stopped whatever drugs he had left.

For paranoid schizophrenics like Bennett-Eko, stopping taking medication can be fairly common, according to Dr Melanie Higgins, another psychiatrist now treating him.

Patients who do not have much insight into their condition can believe that they no longer need the medication – that they are cured because they stop experiencing symptoms.

Some believe that it is the medication itself that is making them mentally ill.

But although the young dad came off his medication, it was clear he had enough insight to seek help when he felt his condition relapsing in the weeks before the killing.

Altogether, Zak Bennett-Eko went to A&E six times in 2019, begging for help with his deteriorating mental health.

On one occasion, he specifically asked medics to section him, as he had been threatening to kill himself in the presence of his partner, the mother of baby Zakari.

This request was never fulfilled.

See full story here

Source: Manchester Evening News, 22nd December 2020

Published by CHARM Greater Manchester

CHARM, the Community for Holistic, Accessible, Rights Based Mental Health was launched by The Organic Recovery Learning Community in September 2020.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: