Two days before she was savagely murdered, grandmother Sally Ann Hodkin had been enjoying a romantic break on the Norfolk Broads with her husband to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
They returned to their suburban home in London to plan for a retirement devoted to their adored grandchildren.
But this dream was shattered in an instant when 58-year-old accounts clerk Mrs Hodkin was knifed to death by a psychotic killer who had stabbed her own mother to death and then been released from a secure mental hospital.
So vicious was the random attack, which took place in a busy street in broad daylight, that Mrs Hodkin was almost decapitated.
Sally Ann Hodkin (pictured with her husband Paul) was stabbed to death in broad daylight in Bexleyheath, south-east London in 2011
Last week, a coroner at her inquest recorded a verdict of unlawful killing – and criticised mental health staff who had dealt with the attacker, Nicola Edgington, in the hours before she struck.
Yet now in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Mrs Hodkin’s devastated family have revealed how the failings went far deeper – claiming a series of astonishing blunders by NHS mental health staff left Edgington free to kill again.
They accuse the team who took the fatal decisions that led to her release of being hoodwinked by a manipulative killer – and being more concerned with her feelings than the safety of the public.
Last night, widower Paul Hodkin, 66, a retired engineer, said: ‘Her death was so senseless – and so totally preventable. Their decision to release Nicola Edgington cost Sal her life, took from me my childhood sweetheart, robbed two sons of their mother, and four grandchildren of their granny.’
Mrs Hodkin’s sons Len and Ian told how staff at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust in South-East London had:
- Ignored a report that Edgington had threatened to stab a stranger at a nightclub, months after she was released;
- Turned a blind eye to a warning from her husband that she had pulled a knife on him during a holiday to Jamaica that they sanctioned;
- Used £600 of taxpayers’ money to help Edgington fund a second trip to the Caribbean island, months before she killed again;
- Highlighted her love of yoga when writing to Government officials to secure her discharge – but failed to tell police of previous violent offences;
- Sympathised with Edgington shortly after she killed Mrs Hodkin, worrying that she would be portrayed as an ‘evil psychopath’.
The brothers’ accounts are backed up by three inquiries, plus numerous official statements, transcripts and letters, which they passed to this newspaper.
Astonishingly, since Mrs Hodkin’s murder in Bexleyheath, South London, in 2011, seven other Oxleas patients have gone on to kill.
Paul Hodkin said: ‘If any good was to come of Sal’s death that would be some consolation. But it won’t – because these killings just keep happening.’
In 2013, Edgington was jailed for life for murdering Mrs Hodkin, with a minimum term of 37 years.
Judge Brian Barker described her as ‘manipulative and exceptionally dangerous’. However, he also said responsibility for her acts could not be ‘laid on others’.
Her killer, Nicola Edgington, had been released from a secure mental hospital after she stabbed her own mother to death
The inquest has only just been held as independent reports had to be completed first.
Len Hodkin, 42, a solicitor who represented his family at the hearing, said: ‘Edgington should never have been let out.
‘She should have been recalled to hospital long before she killed our Mum. She should never have been free to have that opportunity.’
He added: ‘The care team were too close to Nicola Edgington and their relationship with her clouded their judgement.
‘They wanted to be her mate, rather than caring for her in a professional capacity.
‘When there were reports that this woman – who had stabbed her own mother to death – had threatened people with knives, they took her account at face value. They just took her word for it.’
When Edgington first arrived at Oxleas NHS Trust’s Bracton Centre, a medium-secure facility near Dartford, Kent, in February 2006, staff knew they were dealing with a highly dangerous individual who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
Three months earlier she had killed her mother, Marion, by stabbing her nine times. Edgington admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Sentencing her in October 2006 to an indefinite stay in psychiatric care, Judge Anthony Scott-Gall said the attack was ‘as irrational as it was horrific’.
He also issued a stark warning that her carers should have heeded. On many occasions, he said, her account of incidents and relationships was ‘completely contrary to what could be established by the evidence’.
Yet three months later, in January 2007, her mental health team wrote to Government officials asking Edgington be granted temporary ‘escorted leave’. This would mean going out for short periods with a carer.
Edgington (pictured in blue) had been caught on CCTV purchasing a knife from a supermarket – that she then used in another attack
In a follow-up letter they wrote that she was ‘very settled in her mental state’ and had demonstrated ‘a striking co-operation and willingness to participate in all treatment and rehabilitation’.
But according to an independent investigation commissioned by the NHS into Mrs Hodkin’s death, they ignored concerns from other staff members that she could be ‘abusive’, ‘controlling’, ‘narcissistic’, had ‘no remorse’ for killing her mother and was ‘in denial’.
Edgington was granted escorted leave and started to push for a discharge from the unit. In early 2009 her psychiatrist, Dr Janet Parrott, agreed to ask the Ministry of Justice for that to be allowed.
At the time, another Oxleas clinician, psychologist Dr Natalie Hiser, wrote a sobering risk assessment of Edgington. He said she had ‘the potential to be very violent and this violence has been demonstrated from the age of 15’.
And Dr Hiser prophetically warned that if Edgington ‘was to become mentally unwell in the future this would increase her risk of violence’ and stresses caused by pregnancy, conflict with others and substance abuse could destabilise her.
He added that the risk of Edgington causing serious harm to others was ‘high within the context of another psychotic breakdown’ and ‘moderately high’ otherwise.
But in June, Dr Parrott and colleague Dr Sergei Grachev applied to the Ministry of Justice for a conditional discharge, writing: ‘If Ms Edgington’s mental state remains stable the risk to others and to herself will remain low.’
Edgington had co-operated in taking her anti-psychotic and mood-stabilising drugs, they said, and was ‘mainly very compliant’.
They added: ‘She attends various groups – yoga, gym, individual group therapies and … gardening. She has also completed a course in bookkeeping and accountancy.’
Hinting that Edgington might sue if detained further, they said she was ‘aware of her rights under the Mental Health Act’. Individuals cannot legally be held if deemed mentally fit for discharge.
They concluded: ‘We believe that Ms Edgington currently meets the criteria for discharge.’
Ian Hodkin, 40, said: ‘Their assessment was utterly one-sided and showed they swallowed what Edgington told them and how she presented herself in their company, hook, line and sinker.
It is disgraceful they prioritised her ‘rights’ over the public’s right to safety.’
That September – just four years after killing her mother – she was free, set up in a flat in Greenwich, South-East London. Oxleas should have let the Metropolitan Police know via a Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements referral.
A MAPPA form was drawn up but Oxleas psychologist Dr Jackie Craissati forgot to send it. As a result, when incidents involving Edgington arose, police did not know who they were dealing with.
Dr Craissati hit the headlines earlier this year when it emerged she had recommended to the Parole Board that ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys should be released.
Capitalising on her freedom, Edgington asked to visit Jamaica to see her estranged husband and two sons. Oxleas agreed.
While there, in spring 2010, her husband rang her NHS carers. He was worried about her not taking medication, her heavy drinking and ‘outrageous behaviour’. He also said she had picked up a knife and threatened to kill him.
Edgington’s NHS supervisor rang back to speak to her – but did not ask about the knife threat. Incredibly, nobody asked the husband for a formal statement and Edgington’s psychiatrist later blithely concluded ‘there was no evidence’ she had threatened her husband.
The NHS trust where seven others have gone on to kill
Since the horrendous murder of Sally Ann Hodkin in 2011, seven other patients treated by Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust have gone on to kill.
The trust is huge, running 125 sites in South-East London and Kent and caring for thousands of patients with mental health problems every year.
But critics say it is failing to learn from its mistakes. In June 2013, paranoid schizophrenic Daha Mohamed, 51, battered wheelchair-using neighbour Colin Greenway, 55, around the head and slit his throat.
Mohamed was discharged from Oxleas’s mental health services in October 2012.
In March 2014, Daniel Atkins beat 71-year-old neighbour Ron Parsons to death just two days after being discharged from an Oxleas facility.
Atkins told staff he was not ready to be released.
In February 2016, Regina Edwards, 52, strangled her mother Priscilla, 78, as she thought she was a ‘witch’.
Between 1995 and 2005 she was confined to an Oxleas psychiatric unit after stabbing her daughter.
Details about two other deaths, in 2015 and June this year, have yet to be released.
In the other case, in 2015, two prisoners receiving mental health support from Oxleas killed a fellow inmate.
Julian Hendy of the Hundred Families charity (about 100 families a year have a loved one killed by an individual with mental illness) said: ‘We have supported a number of families bereaved by Oxleas patients, and we’ve seen little evidence things are improving.’
This was despite Oxleas NHS Trust’s own guidance that: ‘A statement from the patient that they intend to harm others is the strongest indicator of risk and should never be dismissed.’
Oxleas did not tell the Ministry of Justice about Edgington’s behaviour in Jamaica, even though officials had said they must be informed. Four months later, an ex-boyfriend told police that Edgington had threatened to ‘pull a ‘knife’ on a stranger outside a nightclub.
But Edgington’s Oxleas supervisors merely promised to ‘hold this in our minds’ and ‘pursue a gentle enquiry when we meet her’. They never did.
Oxleas then let her go to Jamaica again, in Christmas 2010. She rang to ask to stay a fortnight longer. Her supervisors agreed. When she messed up her airline ticket re-booking, Oxleas ‘loaned’ her £600 of taxpayers’ money.
Just ten months later, in the early hours of Monday, October 10, 2011, police were called to a mini-cab office where a distressed Edgington told them she needed to be sectioned and taken to hospital. She had not been taking her medication.
They left her at A&E at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich. She told staff: ‘Is it going to take for me to kill someone [sic], as I’ve done it before, so I can get seen?’ During that morning she called 999 and spoke to police 14 times.
At 6.30 am she was taken to the nearby mental health unit, Oxleas House. There, said coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe, staff failed to risk assess her properly or keep her under constant observation. They also failed to lock the front door – and Edgington escaped.
She took a bus to Bexleyheath, bought a knife from a supermarket and attacked artist Kerry Clark, then 22, at a bus stop.
Miss Clark fought her off, disarming her. Edgington ran off and stole a 12in steak knife from a butcher’s. Then she saw Sally Ann Hodkin walking along the street and launched her deadly attack.
A month later, during an NHS internal inquiry, Edgington’s mental health social worker, Liz Lloyd- Folkard said: ‘I am a bit anxious …she is going to be pictured as some sort of evil psychopathic person.’
Edgington was actually ‘a very kindly, thoughtful person’. She added: ‘It’s just beyond me how this happened.’
At the inquest, Oxleas staff insisted they had not been wrong to discharge her.
Oxleas NHS Trust chief executive Matthew Trainer told this newspaper: ‘The coroner was very thorough in exploring the concerns raised, before reaching her conclusion.
‘She recognised that we have acted in response to Mrs Hodkin’s death and have taken rigorous measures to address the issues raised.
‘We accept that errors were made in Nicola Edgington’s care when she was experiencing a crisis in October 2011.
‘We made changes a number of years ago to avoid these happening again. We will continue to focus on safety and we’ll reflect on these proceedings to learn from them.
‘We would again like to express our sincere condolences to the family of Mrs Hodkin and to Kerry Clark. We are very sorry that this tragic incident happened.’