A mentally ill man who stabbed his father and sister to death had “fallen through the cracks” of the mental health system, a Sydney inquest has heard.
Anthony Waterlow killed his 68-year-old father, well-known art curator Nick Waterlow, and his sister Chloe Heuston, 36, at their Randwick home in Sydney 2009.
A Sydney inquest has heard health professionals never detained Waterlow under the Mental Health Act despite years of “bizarre and often threatening” behaviour.
Late last year The NSW parliament launched a public inquiry into the state’s involuntary treatment laws re- sponding to heated debate sparked by the Waterlow murder case.
Giving evidence on Tuesday, Peter McGeorge, a psychiatrist at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital who treated Waterlow from November 2006 to February 2007, said the decision
not to schedule him was made in consultation with other psychiatrists.
Dr McGeorge conceded that opinions were split on the issue, but ultimately it was decided to continue a “therapeutic relation- ship” with Waterlow and encourage him to take anti-psychotic drugs, rather than have him committed.
He said Waterlow’s symptoms and personality suggested he needed to be “engaged wherever possible on a voluntary basis”.
Dr McGeorge rejected a statement made by another psychiatrist in a report, extracts of which were read at the inquest, that it “beggars belief” that Waterlow was never committed.
“He wasn’t there at the time,” Dr McGeorge said. “You have to make your best judgement at the time, which is what I did.”
Waterlow was a “particularly complex case” and “reasonable minds” could differ on how to treat mentally ill patients at critical moments, the inquest heard.
In a May 2007 letter tendered as evidence at the inquest, Waterlow’s friend Gaye Bell wrote to Dr McGeorge saying Waterlow “hears voices constantly mocking and commanding him”.
In the letter, Ms Bell, who has appeared at the inquest, also said Waterlow accused “friends and family of participating in bizarre sexual acts and having an obsession with his sex life”.
She goes on to say that Waterlow is “completely debilitated by his irrational beliefs” and requests that he undergo “a professional assessment”.
The inquest has been told Water- low had for years suffered delusions, believed neighbours were “tormenting him” and thought his family was part of a conspiracy targeting him.
Dr McGeorge, who at one point broke down on the witness stand, agreed with a suggestion from counsel assisting the coroner, Peggy Dwyer, that Waterlow “fell through the cracks” in the mental health system after he left his care.
“He was not seen on a consistent basis, that’s true,” Dr McGeorge said.
The witness urged changes be made to key definitions in mental health legislation in the wake of Waterlow’s case.
He also said family members of mentally ill people needed “clearly stated” opportunities to review their situation.
The inquest resumes on Thursday before deputy state coroner Paul Macmahon.
As first appeared in Psychiatry Update, 20 February 2013