Change of meds saw woman set fire to flat
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.