Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Detainee sues state over knife

WHEN a 16-year-old girl assaulted her mother with a knife, she was sent to juvenile detention.

She was just eight the first time she threatened her mother with a knife. She had also similarly threatened her foster carer, attacked a teacher and stabbed a fellow student. She appeared to have a fascination with knives, the Supreme Court heard yesterday.

Now 25, the woman is suing the state for allowing her access to the knife she used to kill a teacher, Scott Bremmer, in a cooking class at the Yasmar detention centre.

The court heard she was allegedly sexually abused as a child, had been assessed as retarded and suffering from intermittent explosive disorder. Since she was sent to Yasmar at 16, she has assaulted her solicitor, doctor, psychiatrist and two teachers, one of whom was attacked with a leather working tool in July 1999. Two days later, she was allowed to participate in the cooking class, despite staff allegedly raising concerns that she appeared "hyped up". Her handcuffs were removed and she was given cooking implements, including knives.

During a break, she allegedly showed "heightened interest in knives", and after returning to class, she fatally stabbed Mr Bremmer. She was charged, and eventually sentenced to a limiting term of 10 years under the Mental Health Act. She has been held in isolation for most of that time, has assaulted guards and tried to harm herself in custody.

Yesterday, in what Justice Stephen Rothman acknowledged was an unusual claim, the woman's foster mother began suing the state of NSW, on the girl's behalf, for compensation for her imprisonment. It was argued that government organisations knew she was violent, had a history of using knives and needed to be restrained. She was owed a duty to ensure she was adequately supervised and not given access to knives, her lawyers argue in their statement of claim. A psychiatrist found she failed to understand the offence or that it was wrong.

In 2001 the state pleaded guilty to breaching occupational health and safety rules at Yasmar in the supervision of the girl. It was fined $294,000. Staff training had since been changed, the court was told. The case continues.

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