In September 2006 Tom Easton, the only son of Dolores Altaras was fatally stabbed in London by Barrington McKenzie, a psychotic mental health patient of East London & City Mental Health Trust. Tom, a 23 year old sound engineer who was working with disadvantaged kids, had never met his attacker before. It was a completely unprovoked assault on an innocent man. McKenzie pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and was sentenced to be detained indefinitely in Broadmoor high security hospital. Dolores lives near London with her partner, Peter Sinclair.
He was a lovely boy. Even as a child he was growing up to be a very affectionate child. He was just someone that asked for love and got it but he asked again and he was quite free to express his love. He was my only one.
We had a very close relationship and I bought him up almost by myself because my ex left when Tom was almost five. So there was very affectionate relation between me and him. He was open. He was very generous with his friends. He was lively and lovely. I often say he was full of light.
I needed to know how it happened, because the first month I wasn’t angry I was numb.
I was looking from outside in. All the meetings with the family I remember at one point I was thinking. How can they eat? How can they all sit around the table and eat? It was just unreal, it was another world. It’s like looking in from far, far away.
It used to hit me suddenly and then go away.
I went through a period when I was very angry. Very, very angry. And then later when I found out a bit more about McKenzie I was angry with the care he got, or the lack of care. How no one around was even thinking that this man had serious problems.
And then I felt angry about the mother. Then I felt sorry about the mother. After the one day in court I had, I felt sorry for her because she lost a child really. And apparently she said she tried her best [to get him help]. She wrote me a letter but I never read it. So that shows I am still angry with her. I can’t read it.
From the moment we started to deal with things, it was always a case of having to ask questions we were never given answers. It was very difficult. We were not getting any indication what was following on next. We had to ask questions to find out. And try and read the minds of the authorities really.
You really had to push?
All the time. We had great difficulty understanding precisely where the responsibility lay. We tried to make contact and found it very difficult to reach the right people and get the right answers.
Did you think anybody was taking responsibility for what happened?
Well our impression was that they were trying to avoid it. There probably were some individuals doing something about it but we weren’t to know that. It was really not until the trial took place that we knew what was going to any sense.
Did you ever get a letter of condolence from the mental health trust?
I think that both the mental health trust and the local authority had given their condolences in the newspapers apparently but we never received them.
We had no connection with the mental health trust until way into 2007. That must have been at least ten months [after Tom’s murder] and that was as a result of some local press coverage. We were able to find out a way of getting to get to talk to them, and we finally got a meeting with them I think fifteen months after [the murder] in the January February 2008.
And that meeting was very awkward it was. I think they assumed we were going to start blaming them for various things that had happened. We were going there to find out what had happened, we just didn’t know.
It was that sort of situation where we felt that we were all the time meeting their needs and not our needs. And we were the victim’s family in this case. But in terms of what we needed, no, there was virtually nothing.
How does that make you feel?
Angry. Yeah, angry at the system. I mean they have access to all the information. We are not allowed to have access.
Because every time we tried to ask any questions they said well I don’t think that’s available.
It’s supposed to be transparent.
None of that
None of that. We need to have the right information you know, accurate information about what happened.
But the death of a person a young person at the hands with somebody with mental health problems is of immense public interest. Given the numbers who have died in this way I think its absolutely vital that the public knows, it’s vital for us as the victims family to know. And it’s also vital that the public at large know what is going on in the system and what the failings of the system are. So we are determined to make sure that that comes out as early as we can.
It wasn’t until the trial that actually we learnt then that he was a schizophrenic who had been given medical treatment. He was being treated. [but] they didn’t treat it successfully so the man was on the street with a desire to do something.
By failing him, they actually betrayed us. They let us down and they are responsible of that.
Yeah I think it’s a sad indictment but that’s but that’s what it is. The system failed in this case.
Dolores and Peter set up the FLAVASUM Trust in Tom’s memory to campaign against knife crime by supporting arts and music projects to engage with vulnerable young people.
Dolores was also interviewed for Healthtalk online.