Man found not guilty of Skype murder still waiting for psychiatric bed

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Man found not guilty of Skype murder still waiting for psychiatric bed

By Tammy Mills and Adam Cooper

A Supreme Court judge has been forced to keep a man in jail for a further three months because there are no beds at the state’s secure hospital, a situation she described as “very unfortunate”.

Despite more money being directed towards the Thomas Embling forensic mental health hospital in this year’s budget, the Supreme Court heard on Wednesday that more men were still waiting for beds.

Maud Steenbeek was attacked and killed in her Heidelberg West home.

Maud Steenbeek was attacked and killed in her Heidelberg West home.

Xochil Quetzel O’Neill, 30, who killed his neighbour Maud Steenbeek in her Heidelberg West home on January 28 last year was found not guilty of murder because of mental impairment.

Ms Steenbeek, a 61-year-old yoga and pilates instructor, was on a Skype call to her brother in the Netherlands when O’Neill came into her home and repeatedly struck her to the head and body with a Samoan wooden paddle.

Her brother called one of her sons after the Skype call ended suddenly, and the son rushed to the home, confronting and restraining O’Neill.

A psychiatrist recommended O’Neill undergo a comprehensive forensic assessment and rehabilitation at Thomas Embling under a custodial supervision order.

“Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly given the pressure on beds at Thomas Embling hospital...there isn’t actually a bed available,” Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said on Wednesday.

Justice Hollingworth said there were currently 12 male prisoners waiting for a bed at Thomas Embling for acute mental health treatment and only 20 beds available for the whole male prisoner population.

She said the delays were frustrating for family members involved, including Ms Steenbeek’s.

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Jonathan Dick, found not guilty of the murder of his brother, had to wait nine months for a Forensicare bed.

Jonathan Dick, found not guilty of the murder of his brother, had to wait nine months for a Forensicare bed.Credit:Victoria Police

“It is very unfortunate that we have such a shortage of beds in the psychiatric hospital available,” the judge said. “Unfortunately, the court’s hands are tied by the lack of available resources.”

In May, after almost two decades of lobbying, and prompted by a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, the Victorian government announced $350 million in funding for Thomas Embling, which is run by Forensicare.

The money is to go towards a new 34-bed women’s precinct and a 48-bed medium-security men’s facility. The commission recommended 107 more beds by the end of 2026.

Health Minister James Merlino said the investment from the government reflected the need for more specialist forensic mental health services in the state and would increase capacity and cut waiting times at Thomas Embling.

Professor James Ogloff.

Professor James Ogloff.Credit:Simon Schluter

Senior forensic psychologist Professor James Ogloff, who is also an executive director for research at Forensicare, said he knew from the day the hospital opened in 2000 it would not have the capacity to meet demand.

“Now we’re seeing some steady support,” Professor Ogloff told The Age. “The reality is that there is a great need for these secure mental health beds which at the present time continues to be unmet.”

He said treatment was crucial for people like O’Neill.

Recent research from the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science found that in 20 years no one subject to an order under the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act had been charged with a serious violent offence – such as murder – after their order was revoked.

About 21 per cent, half the recidivism rate for the general population of offenders, were charged with offences such as assault, drug offences and theft.

Courtney Herron was killed in Royal Park by Henry Hammond, who was found not guilty due to mental impairment.

Courtney Herron was killed in Royal Park by Henry Hammond, who was found not guilty due to mental impairment.

“If they remain in prison, then it’s not an environment that can adequately meet the factors that cause them to offend in the first place,” Professor Ogloff said.

Barrister Tim Marsh, who specialises in fitness for trial and mental impairment cases, said the pressure on the hospital to manage scarce resources remained unchanged.

“As long as we continue building more prisons and remanding more people, the pressure will simply increase on the hospital,” Mr Marsh said.

Forensicare said in a statement that while there was still high demand, people in prison requiring compulsory treatment at Thomas Embling would receive the best possible mental health care while they waited for a bed.

The wait for a bed has been a factor in several high-profile cases.

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Jonathan Dick, who stabbed and killed his younger brother at a Doncaster shopping centre, had to wait nine months after he was found not guilty due to mental impairment.

There were also delays in the case of Henry Hammond, who bashed Melbourne woman Courtney Herron to death in a park.

Stephen Bailey, who killed his mother, Penny, during a psychotic episode in 2015, waited in Port Phillip Prison for at least eight months.

Easton Woodhead, found not guilty in 2015 by way of mental impairment of murdering homeless man Wayne Perry, was waiting for five months.

Patients are detained at the facility for an average six to eight years, but can be there for life. Once discharged, they continue to receive compulsory care and treatment until a court decides otherwise.

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