Father who threw baby in river 'slipped through' mental health care net, says judge

Amy Walker
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: PA</span>
Photograph: PA

A man who threw his infant son into a river “slipped through the net” of mental health services, a judge has said.

Zak Bennett-Eko, 23, was sentenced to a hospital order on Tuesday after being found guilty of the manslaughter by diminished responsibility of his 11-month-old son Zakari.

During a six-day trial, he told the court he had believed the baby was turning into the devil when he threw him into the River Irwell in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, on 11 September last year.

The psychiatrist Dr John Crosby, his treating clinician at Ashworth secure hospital, said Bennett-Eko, who had a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, should “never have been discharged” from community mental health care services in the years before his son’s death.

Sentencing him at the Nightingale court at the Lowry theatre in Salford, Mr Justice Fraser told the defendant: “It is not the only failure of the system in your case.

“You seem to have slipped through the net in terms of care for your
mental illness, which in hindsight was much more serious than was
realised at the time.”

He added that he had “unhesitatingly” concluded that Bennett-Eko was dangerous. He made a hospital order under section 37 of the Mental Health Act with restrictions under section 41 of the act, meaning the question of whether he would ever be released will be a matter for the secretary of state.

The judge told the defendant: “In your case, and this is accepted by your treating clinicians, there is the prospect that you may never be well enough to be released.”

Bennett-Eko, who was too unwell to appear at the trial or the sentencing, was previously diagnosed with psychosis related to cannabis and sectioned at the age of 15 but discharged into the care of his GP in 2017, the court was told.

Crosby said the defendant’s learning disability meant he would not fully have understood the effect not taking his medication and using cannabis would have on his mental health.

“He should never have been discharged from community mental
health services,” he said. “I think it is a big ask for somebody with such complex mental health problems, at such a young age, to be managed by a general practitioner.”

Peter Wright QC, defending, added that Bennett-Eko had tried to seek support for his mental health problems six times in the weeks leading up to his son’s death.

The judge said: “You expressly asked to be sectioned.
The notes of one of those visits positively states ‘no emergency, no
urgency’ and you were again simply referred back to your GP.”