Social worker clinches out-of-court settlement seven years after knife attack

Graham Burton was freed to stab Claire Selwood seven times in the back just days after warning medics he planned to kill the mother-of-three

Claire Selwood of Morpeth, who was knifed by Graham Burton
Claire Selwood of Morpeth, who was knifed by Graham Burton

A social worker who was repeatedly stabbed by a psychiatric patient last night criticised health bosses as it emerged she had clinched an out-of-court settlement.

Graham Burton, now 47, warned medics he would kill Claire Selwood just days before he was freed to knife the mother-of-three in the back six times.

After he was jailed indefinitely in June 2007 for attempted murder, an independent investigation unearthed serious failings in the way NHS workers handled Burton’s care at Cherry Knowle Hospital, Sunderland.

It has taken more than seven years for Mrs Selwood to secure a pay-out from health workers after legal professionals argued two NHS Trusts had no duty of care for her safety.

But now – in a landmark legal case – she has secured an undisclosed sum after her injuries forced her to give-up her career in December last year.

Last night from her home in Northumberland Mrs Selwood, 44, criticised the health trusts and also urged the Government to do more to protect social workers on the front line. She claimed she had been let down in the aftermath of the attack.

She said: “People must have known that I was going to need lifelong support but there was nothing.

“There’s no support in place for social workers. Mine is an extreme case but there are thousands of social workers who are dealing with verbal threats, dealing with children’s trauma like sexual abuse and hearing their disclosures.

“Social workers have to remove them from the jaws of angry parents but if they go for help there’s nothing there for them.”

Burton made repeated threats against Mrs Selwood to nurses, telling them: “If I see her, I’m going to kill her on the spot.” The warnings were never passed on.

Two days later, on October 18 2006, he armed himself with a 6in kitchen knife hidden in his trouser leg and stabbed her during a meeting at a County Durham school.

One of the blows missed her heart by millimetres and she has been left with permanent nerve damage to her lower limbs which has ruined her career.

During a seven-year legal battle Ms Selwood claimed health bosses – plus her employer, Durham County Council – had been negligent and exposed her to danger.

Her civil damages claim against Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust had previously been “struck out” by a county court judge.

Health bosses had successfully argued that they did not owe a “duty of care in respect of the action of a third party”.

But following a hearing in 2012 three judges ruled that Mrs Selwood could claim damages from two health authorities

Now Mrs Selwood, who has three sons, aged 18, 17 and nine, said: “I felt a blade in my back and I realised there was a knife sticking out of my back. I had been stabbed seven times. He had told mental health nurses that he wanted to kill me but they thought he was just frustrated.

“Last September I was made an offer out of court and while it was a significant sum if I had continued working I would have earned three times as much.”

Mrs Selwood was medically retired in December after suffering physical and mental health problems. She needs a wheelchair, is constantly in pain and suffers flashbacks of the terrifying attack.

Mrs Selwood said: “I feel the public need to understand more about the dangers faced by front line social workers. I also feel what needs to be addressed is the lack of support for social workers, who end up with their own mental health difficulties as a result of the trauma they face at work every day.”

A spokesperson for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are pleased for Ms Selwood that her claim has now been resolved.

“Mental health services have changed considerably since this appalling attack. Both organisations have made improvements to the way they work and acted promptly to implement the recommendations of an independent investigation into the incident in 2010.

“Both Trust’s offer their best wishes to Ms Selwood and her family for the future.”

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