This week I called on our District Health Board to unequivocally apologise to Nelson woman Sarah Preece. It seems, as Elton John said in his famous song “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”.
Sarah was brutally assaulted and raped in her Brook Street home in late 2017. The assailant, Jacob Jensen from the West Coast, had presented at Nelson Hospital at 3.30pm in a clearly psychotic state. He said people wanted to kill him. He was assessed as a high risk of self-harm or harming others. After being unattended for three hours he left. Soon after he made his way up the Brook where he committed his appalling assault on Sarah in her home. Mr Jensen was subsequently found not guilty by way of insanity and committed to psychiatric hospital care in Christchurch.
There are three aspects of this horrible constituency case that I have been working on with Sarah Preece. The first is for our health bosses to acknowledge that our hospital service failed that day. We encourage people with mental health illness to seek help. Mr Jensen should not have been left unattended for three hours at the Emergency Department and been able to walk out. While they have expressed sympathy to Sarah, they refuse to accept the service was inadequate.
My second concern is our privacy laws. My requests on behalf of Sarah for information in this case from the DHB which date back to November 2017 were declined on privacy grounds. It is wrong that this rapist could access very personal details of Sarah as part of his court case, but she was denied any of his. I am pursuing changes to our privacy laws to fix this.
My third concern is over the rights of victims of serious crimes where an offender is found to be insane. Sarah’s experience repeats that of Wendy Hamer who was also viciously assaulted by a psychotic man. Victims of such crimes are denied a say over future release or conditions. “Wendy’s Petition”, with Sarah’s support, has secured the signatures of thousands of Nelsonians. I am determined these Nelson cases trigger a change in the law. National introduced a Bill into Parliament to have this anomaly fixed.
I pay tribute to both Sarah and Wendy and their partners and family supporting them. It is incredibly brave of them to come forward and tell their horrific stories. They are doing so in the hope that we can learn from what went wrong. Our duty is to heed their message and put things right.
I am proud of Nelson Hospital and its dedicated board, managers, doctors and nurses. I get hundreds of reports from Nelsonians of superb lifesaving care. Mr Jensen, not the DHB, is responsible for this horrific assault. I commend the DHB on strengthening mental health services at our Emergency Department.
However, Sarah Preece will live with the physical and emotional scars of her assault for the rest of her life. It was preventable. An apology from hospital bosses is overdue.