Experts ‘missed warning signs’ before former mental patient killed her mother with an ornamental shire horse

WARNING SIGNS ... Jennifer Shelton, left, killed her mother, Bertha Martin, right.
WARNING SIGNS ... Jennifer Shelton, left, killed her mother, Bertha Martin, right.
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HEALTH experts missed a series of warning signs before a former nurse with a ‘long history’ of mental health issues and alcohol abuse killed her pensioner mother at their home, an inquiry has found.

Jennifer Shelton hit Bertha Martin with an ornamental shire horse at their home in Woodlands Road, Cleadon, on June 17, 2008.

Frail Mrs Martin, who was suffering from leukaemia, died in hospital a week later on her 85th birthday.

Shelton was originally charged with murder but found not guilty by order of the judge.

She was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court in 2009 and jailed for four years.

Now, an independent report, chaired by barrister Kester Armstrong, has highlighted a “number of deficits” in the care afforded to Shelton and the management of her discharge from the Bede Wing, in the ground of South Tyneside District Hospital.

But the report said it was unclear whether Mrs Martin’s death could have been prevented.

Shelton had spent a significant part of 2008 as an inpatient on Bede 2 ward during two separate admissions.

She was discharged on May 29 2008 – just three weeks before killing her mother.

The report states: “The principal concern of the investigation panel relates to the discharge planning which underpinned Shelton’s discharge to the community in May 2008 and the absence of robust community support for her or any provision to enable the impact of the discharge upon Mrs Martin’s welfare to be effectively monitored.”

The report continues: “The investigation panel was also concerned that the professionals involved with both Shelton and Mrs Martin attached ‘insufficient’ importance to the warnings which came from a number of sources, concerning the potential risk posed by Shelton to her mother.

“Had there been a more complete understanding of the difficulties which both Shelton and Mrs Martin were experiencing caring for each other, there may have been an enhanced level of monitoring of the situation following Shelton’s Final discharge from hospital.

“It is not clear at all, however, that this would have altered the eventual outcome to this case as it is apparent that the fatal assault was a spontaneous act with no suggestion of premeditation.”

The report added: “The only certain way in which the tragedy could have been avoided was if Mrs Martin and Shelton had not been together alone at Mrs Martin’s home at the time.

“Any such separation could only have resulted either from Shelton’s long-term detention in hospital with no provision for leave or by some enforced separation of them in the community.

“The panel considers that neither of these options would have been necessarily realistic or sustainable.”

During the trial, the court heard how the killing was the climax to a campaign of abuse by Shelton, who had a history of mental health problems.

Shelton had been seen by care workers pushing her mother in the past.

A spokesman for Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, who provide mental health services at South Tyneside Hospital, said: “Reports like this one are a vital way of providing clear feedback and support for 
organisations such as ours and enabling us to look at how we work and how we care for people.”