Warning signs missed before woman killed her mother

WARNING SIGNS ... Jennifer Shelton, left, killed her mother, Bertha Martin, right.
WARNING SIGNS ... Jennifer Shelton, left, killed her mother, Bertha Martin, right.

HEALTH experts in South Tyneside 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 suffered 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 by a jury of manslaughter 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 management of her discharge from the Bede Wing, at South Tyneside District Hospital. But the report said it was unclear if 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 planning that underpinned Shelton’s discharge to the community in May 2008 and 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 the professionals involved with both Shelton and Mrs Martin attached ‘insufficient’ importance to warnings, concerning risk posed by Shelton to Mrs Martin.

“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 after Shelton’s final discharge.

“It is not clear this would have altered the eventual outcome as it is apparent the fatal assault was spontaneous.”

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.

“Any such separation could only have resulted from Shelton’s long-term detention in hospital or by some enforced separation of them in the community. The panel considers neither would have been realistic or sustainable.”

During the trial, the court heard how the killing ended a campaign of abuse by Shelton. She had been seen by care workers pushing her mum in the past.

A spokesman for Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said: “Reports like this are a vital way of providing feedback and support for organisations like ours and enabling us to look at how we work and care for people.”

Shelton now lives elsewhere in the UK.