In January 2004 Garry Taylor broke into Colin Johnson’s house in Sunderland and killed him with an axe. Taylor was a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of serious violence and psychotic behaviour well known to local mental health authorities. He was not taking his medication because he didn’t think he was ill. His family say they warned mental health services 83 times about his deteriorating condition but without result. Colin Johnson’s sister is Sue Mileson.
Well Colin was my second from youngest brother, and I grew up looking after our Colin when my mam was working, I was always like sticking up for him and I felt as though I should protect him. As he grew up he’s never ever been in any bother, he didn’t hurt anybody, he was kind, generous, always smiling, cared about people, thoughtful, just the best really. He was topper. He didn’t have a bad bone in his body.
It was really difficult to get information we tried to get information we were sort of fobbed off or given little tiny bits of information and it was really frustrating for us, not just for me, for all of the family. They’d say “Oh this is as much as we can tell you at the minute” and for ages we didn’t know exactly what happened to our Colin.
There were things on the television where it was saying he’d been cut by a knife. It looked as though his throat had been slashed with a knife and we’d say “Oh, right” and we were trying to come to terms with that. Then we’d seen on the television, apparently the person who had done it had tried to behead him and we were reeling from that and…
You found out on the telly?
Yes. I just wanted to get to the bottom of it I wanted to try and make sense out of it, but I couldn’t, and I still can’t. But I was just trying to make sense of things, and trying to understand I suppose.
On Garry Taylor
Me personally I didn’t know a great deal about Gary Taylor. It’s only from when he was a kid and from what I had heard from others, but it was common knowledge that Gary Taylor wasn’t right in the head. That’s what people used to say. He always seemed to be out of it.
He did try to kill his girlfriend once. Everybody knew. Everybody said “Oh did you hear about trying to kill his girlfriend?” He was out in the streets and that was awhile before it happened to our Colin.
The court case was horrible because he pleaded guilty to manslaughter. We, we just, it was murder to us, premeditated murder. [Taylor had bought the axe and a ski mask the week before the attack] And that was just absolutely horrible because we had waited such a long time. It was just so frustrating for us because they seemed to be bending over backwards for this person who doesn’t seem to have any kind of thought for life, do you know what I mean? It was really frustrating and horrible.
We asked what indefinite meant what is an indefinite sentence? Does that mean life? And I remember the liaison officer trying to like reassure us saying that look they’re not likely to ever let him out again because of the extent of the crime that he’s done and the amount of times that he’s done it and the fact that he never took his medication. All of that was all brought out in court. How can they then let him out if in the past he’s never been able to take his medication?
So we were a bit reassured and we said “Is there anything else we can do?” because we were worried that in years to come he might get released. And they said you could write a letter to the judge and be able to put how the family feel. So we met again as a family and tried to put into words how we felt, which was really hard – it’s still difficult to explain how it is unless you’ve been through it yourself.
But we tried to put it into words and we did write down, things for them to consider in the future if they ever thought about giving him parole. So that’s what we did.
We said we wanted an inquiry to find out exactly how can things like this happen. Because we couldn’t believe how this person who had been ill and who had committed violent offences in the past, how could it happen again? Surely somebody must be accountable, surely there should be someone who’s responsible, surely there should be consequences? Its just basic stuff, and we don’t claim to be medical experts, or anything like that it was just basic stuff so we said we wanted an independent inquiry.
We thought that it was a really thorough report. It didn’t seem to be covering anything up. It did seem to be independent and fair.
[They found] repeated failings, there seemed to be loads of signs. Everything I was reading seemed to be so obvious to the reader, that he needs help here, he needs help.
The main thing that we found out was they said if it wasn’t for our failings our Colin would still be here. And there was respect there for them because they stood up and said that.
We felt as if nothing has been hidden, they have admitted it, they have put their hands up. We felt right, felt a bit of a relief there. The job has been done that we would have expected really.
We can not understand how this wasn’t avoided. All of the signs was there, why weren’t they acted upon? It was so needless, it could have very much been avoided, that’s what we can not understand.
And it keeps happening and it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t happen and it’s no good saying “Lessons have been learned” Lessons have to be learned, and now, even now when I’m saying it ‘Lessons have to be learned’ It seems meaningless, do you know what I mean? I am thinking how many times have we heard that?
And it’s just, I think, simple things, like just following things up. If people miss meetings that are so important assessments, they should be followed up. And if family members are saying look, “I am really worried because this is happening,” then surely the person that they are reporting it to should be able to check the records and say “Actually they’ve got good reason to be worried because look what he’s done before.”
In 2005 Garry Taylor was sentenced to be detained indefinitely at Rampton High Security Hospital. The psychiatrist dealing with him at the specialist unit there for extreme cases of mental illness said he was one of the most psychotically disturbed people he had ever met.
Interview with Sue Mileson, April 2009
Rampton Psychiatrist comment from R v Taylor, Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court, Trial Transcript 27 Sept 2005, p 11