Review into death of autistic woman warns of more murders if nothing's done to address needs of adults with disabilities

A sobering report ordered after a Blenheim woman murdered her severely disabled daughter is calling for urgent reform, saying disability services across the country don't have the resources to cope with giving families support.

It's been two years since 20-year-old Ruby Knox was killed when her mother Donella Knox drugged and suffocated her at home on May 16.

Now a report warns there'll be more murders just like it if nothing is done to address the needs of adults with disabilities across all DHBs.

An independent review was commissioned by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board to identify care and service delivery problems that may have contributed to Ruby's death and to make recommendations to prevent similar problems in the future.

The report's author, developmental paediatrician Dr Rosemary Marks, didn't find any shortcomings in the care provided by NMDHB staff and considered that the event could have happened "in any DHB".

However, she identified many gaps at both local and national levels, particularly at the time a person with disability transitions from child to adult care.

Dr Marks said there were signs the situation was deteriorating in the months leading up to Ruby's death; including the family's frequent visits to Wairau Hospital's emergency department, consulting a different GP to the one they were enrolled with and a reduction of respite care.

The report found no single person or agency was aware of all those factors.


Health professionals had heard Donella threatening to do harm to Ruby on two occasions, including one instance where a threat was made to drive off a cliff and during another, Donella had stated "I don’t know what I would do to her".

Dr Marks said staff concerned in both instances did "take reasonable steps" to follow up on the threats. But that if Ruby had been under the age of 17, "I am confident that health professionals would have notified Child Youth and Family Services of their concerns," she said.

In addressing the issues above, Dr Marks recommended the establishment of an "early warning score system", which would be triggered by concerns from a professional.

A social work assessment would have to be carried out whenever two or more risk factors were identified including observing a rise in ED visits, a change of primary care provider, a drop in school attendance, or escalating behaviour in a person or their care giver.

The author also called for the Government to introduce a mandatory system to protect vulnerable adults, as there is for children under Oranga Tamariki.

Dr Marks said there is a lack of training in New Zealand for those who provide respite care to children and adults with disability. But she hoped that disability support projects currently underway will result in better outcomes for people like Ruby and their families.


Disability advocates are welcoming the review but say there needs to be a change in attitude toward disability.

Disabled Persons Assembly’s Dr Esther Woodbury says she wants to see meaningful investment in disabled people in New Zealand.

“There are a lot of costs to being disabled which are not supported currently under our support system, under our welfare system and I think that can put so much pressure on individuals and families and I think that is something I'd like to see talked about more,” Dr Woodbury told 1 NEWS.

She agreed with the report’s findings over problems with the transition from child to adult services, describing it as a “crucial point where things often fall over”.

“Where people go from mostly interacting with their peers in the school system to suddenly being quite alone while their non-disabled peers are moving out into the community, moving out of home, moving into education and jobs and that kind of stuff and its often very difficult for young disabled people to be able to have those same opportunities”.

Donella Knox is currently serving a four year sentence for the murder of her daughter in 2016.

Ruby Knox, severely autistic and disabled, was killed by her mother after years battling the health system. Source: 1 NEWS

Strong growth expected in GDP figures to be released this morning

All eyes are on the country's financial performance this morning with economists expecting strong growth.

The latest GDP figures are due for release, with ASB tipping they'll show strong quarterly growth.

Westpac have forecast the annual rate of growth to hold steady at 2.7 percent and both banks are picking a 0.9 per cent rise for the quarter.

Eyes are on the country’s financial performance this morning, with ASB tipping strong quarterly growth. Source: Breakfast

'Food terrorists' could face 15 years in prison as Australia considers new penalties in wake of fruit needle crisis

So-called "food terrorists" could face 15 years behind bars as part of tough new penalties aimed at preventing another strawberry needle crisis.

The government will introduce legislation to federal parliament yesterday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for it to be passed before MPs exit Canberra.

More than 100 reports of tampered fruit are being investigated by police across the country, many of which are thought to be fake or copycat cases.

The Queensland and NSW governments are offering a reward to catch the culprits.

The measures include increasing the maximum penalty for food contamination from 10 to 15 years' jail, in line with child pornography and terror financing offences.

There will also be a new offence of being reckless in causing harm, which will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The most serious cases with national security implications will be covered by sabotage offences, with penalties ranging from seven to 25 years' jail.

The prime minister said the strawberry crisis was a distressing series of events.

"This is a shocking and cowardly thing to do," Mr Morrison said.

The government is also providing $1 million to make more food safety officials available to increase detection, fast-track recalls and assist the industry to rebuild confidence.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud labelled the offenders parasites, calling for them to be caught and have the book thrown at them.

"Each and every one of us, we can help an Aussie farmer better than any government can," Mr Littleproud said.

"We can go into those shops, we can buy a hell of a lot of strawberries. Cut 'em up and eat 'em - don't cut them out of your diet."

One person, a young boy, has been arrested so far. 

NSW authorities are investigating more than 20 incidents of needles found in strawberries. Source: Breakfast


3D gun businessman accused of sex with underage prostitute in Texas

An affidavit accuses the owner of a Texas company that makes untraceable 3D-printed guns of paying $500 cash to have sex with a female under 17.

The affidavit filed overnight in state district court in Austin accuses 30-year-old Cody R. Wilson of sexual assault of a juvenile. It says he met his alleged victim through the website

Wilson hasn't responded to a phone message. Jail records indicate he's not in custody.

Wilson is identified in the affidavit as the owner of Austin-based Defense Distributed. He announced last month that he is selling 3D-printed gun blueprints through his website after a federal court blocked posting them online for free.

That followed a collection of states suing to stop a settlement that the federal government had reached with Defense Distributed.

Cody Wilson with a Liberator pistol.
Cody Wilson with a Liberator pistol. Source: Associated Press

The pistol can be 3D-printed out of ABS plastic at home for a few hundred dollars.

'Angel' takes disabled friend on 'wacky' world adventures and is rewarded with $10,000

A young woman who has taken a teenager with cerebral palsy on adventures around the world, donated a kidney to an old school friend and helped many others has been rewarded with $10,000 for more adventures and to look after herself for a change.

Leah Stewart, who's 23, is the winner of this week's ASB Good as Gold award on TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

Donating an organ and helping others were on a bucket list Leah wrote when she was just 16, and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. 

Nineteen-year-old Alicia Kapa - Leah's best friend - and Mum Joanna Kapa have really appreciated Leah's help.

Joanna explained that Alicia wasn't breathing when she was born and has cerebral palsy as a result of that lack of oxygen. 

"She loves adventure and her and her best mate Leah have travelled around the world and done all sports of crazy, crazy things," Joanna said.

These have included a cruise in the Bahamas, adventures in New York and bungy jumping.

Joanna said it means a huge amount to her that Alicia is "getting out and doing stuff that everybody at her age should be able to do, that she's safe, she hasn't got her mother hanging around with her, which is a big thing".

Alicia agreed with that last point.

She's everything that you would think when you think of an angel - Joanna Kapa

Joanna said Leah is "everything that you would think when you think of an angel".

While Alicia declared: "Leah is an amazing friend to me."

Leah and Alicia's adventures have been documented in videos on their own YouTube channel called 'Wheely Wacky Adventures".

Reporter Sam Wallace surprised Leah in suburban Auckland telling her ASB want to give her $5000 for some more Wheely Wacky Adventures, and $5000 "for you to look after yourself because you never do it".

"That sounds amazing," said a stunned Leah as she hugged Alicia in her wheelchair out on the street, surrounded by friends.

Leah admitted she has helped "a few" people and said just over a year ago she donated her left kidney to a friend from high school and "thinks" she saved her life.

The win will help with a trip she and Alicia booked themselves next week because they were missing each other. 

"And the whole thing went on my credit card because I had no money in the bank. And I knew I had some big student loans coming up. I was planning on calling the IRD on Monday and sorting out one of them," Leah said.

This giving friend can relax a little now - until the next wacky adventure.

Leah Stewart wrote her list when she was 16 and she's doing a pretty good job of ticking them off. Source: Seven Sharp