Employer of slain mental health worker ruled negligent

MISSED: Mental health worker Michael Corkhill died at the hands of a mentally ill man he was meeting through work.
MISSED: Mental health worker Michael Corkhill died at the hands of a mentally ill man he was meeting through work.

THE North Coast employer of murdered mental health worker Michael Corkhill pleaded guilty in the Industrial Court of New South Wales this week for failing to ensure a safe working environment for its staff.

WorkCover instituted proceedings against On Track Community Programs in August 2011, after initially clearing the service of any negligence in Mr Corkhill's death at the hands of one of his clients, David Rodriguez, during a home visit in East Lismore nearly four years ago.

WorkCover now alleges that there was a known risk that Rodriguez might become violent and should have insisted two employees be present to accept him into its program following his discharge from the Lismore Adult Mental Health Unit (previously the Richmond Clinic).

The workplace authority added that On Track should have not accepted Rodriguez without a written discharge summary from the unit.

Rodriguez was charged with Mr Corkhill's murder but found not guilty on the grounds of mental illness in the Supreme Court in 2010.

Mr Corkhill's family, including his partner of 13 years, Giovanni Cordeiro, fiercely fought the initial ruling, saying it blamed Mr Corkhill for just doing his job and caring about his clients.

A weary Mr Cordeiro told The Echo this week that his life had effectively been on hold since his partner's death and that he intended to deliver a victim impact statement to the three-day sentencing hearing listed in Sydney next month.

"Initially I felt flat about (the plea) because, in spite of achieving the outcome we were seeking, it doesn't bring Michael back," he said.

"It just lays bare the fact that no matter what the outcome, there is still no Michael."

Mr Cordeiro described Mr Corkhill as an extraordinary man and a "dedicated, highly skilled professional" who cared deeply about his clients.

He has no ill-will towards Rodriguez, but has been frustrated by the judicial delays.

Mr Corkhill's death sent shockwaves through the mental health sector and the wider community, sparking calls for an overhaul of the current system.

Australian Services Union North Coast organiser Naomi Worrall said that while nothing could make up for the tragic loss that occurred, steps must be taken to prevent the same happening to any other worker or their family.

"We cannot take it for granted that employers will have adequate workplace protections in place," she said.

"Workers must have strong representation on WH&S matters; the risks are just too great, it is just too important.

"No one should have to go through what Michael and his family have gone through simply because he was doing his job.

"No family should have to hear their loved one will not be returning home from work."

Topics:  court murder accused on track community programs workcover

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