Change of meds saw woman set fire to flat

The Press - - News - David Clark­son

A woman set fire to a rented flat while she was in­side af­ter a men­tal health episode, a court has heard.

The fire caused ma­jor dam­age to the in­ner-city Christchurch flat, and caused some dam­age to the prop­erty next door.

The woman, now 57, was re­peat­edly seek­ing med­i­cal help for her de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tion at the time of the in­ci­dent in May 2017.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately, for var­i­ous rea­sons that didn’t oc­cur, you ended up set­ting this fire,’’ Christchurch Dis­trict Court Judge Jane Far­ish said yes­ter­day as she faced the de­ci­sion on where to place the woman.

She granted name sup­pres­sion be­cause the woman had ear­lier been found not guilty of the ar­son be­cause of in­san­ity.

The woman had never been in trou­ble be­fore, and had lived with her men­tal ill­ness for 30 years. It was be­cause her ill­ness was ef­fec­tively un­treated be­cause of a med­i­ca­tion change that she came into con­tact with the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem for the first time.

De­fence coun­sel An­drew McKen­zie noted the clear change in the woman since her pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ances. ‘‘She’s got some hope for her fu­ture,’’ he told Judge Far­ish. The woman even had en­rol­ment forms to fur­ther her ed­u­ca­tion.

Judge Far­ish re­called that the woman had been ‘‘very dis­tressed and ob­vi­ously not very well’’ the last time she ap­peared. ‘‘I see you have had a bit of a rough run with your med­i­ca­tion,’’ she said.

Be­cause the woman was found not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity, no repa­ra­tion or­ders can be made. How­ever, McKen­zie said the woman wanted to do some­thing to make up for what she did, and might even­tu­ally be able to make a dona­tion to the neigh­bour.

Judge Far­ish said she had to de­cide whether the woman should be com­mit­ted as a spe­cial pa­tient, or sim­ply as a pa­tient un­der the Men­tal Health Act, which would give doc­tors more op­tions in tran­si­tion­ing her back into the com­mu­nity.

The woman had been held at Christchurch Women’s Prison and then at a men­tal health unit.

She had no drug or al­co­hol is­sues, and had pos­i­tive sup­ports within the com­mu­nity. She had good in­sight into her ill­ness and was known to seek help when she be­came un­well.

She was now sta­ble on her med­i­ca­tion, and was seen as a low risk of caus­ing harm to her­self or oth­ers.

Judge Far­ish opted for the less re­stric­tive place­ment, which would en­able doc­tors to work to­wards plac­ing the woman back into the com­mu­nity, with sup­port.

‘‘But this time, hope­fully no­body will change your med­i­ca­tion,’’ she said.


A fire­fighter at the scene of the blaze.

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