Manslaughter sentence condemned by advocates as ‘inappropriate’ for horrific crime

Tags NDIS Health and Wellbeing Industry

Posted 1 month ago by Anna Christian

Ann Marie Smith's former support worker was sentenced to six years' jail last week for her manslaughter. [Source: SA Police]
Ann Marie Smith's former support worker was sentenced to six years' jail last week for her manslaughter. [Source: SA Police]

The sentence of a support worker over the manslaughter of Adelaide woman Ann Marie Smith has been labelled “inappropriate” by peak advocacy organisation People with Disability Australia (PWDA).

Rosa Marie Maione last year pleaded guilty to manslaughter over Ms Smith’s death and was sentenced last week to six years, seven months and five days in jail, with a non-parole period of five years and three months.

PWDA President Samantha Connor says the sentence does not reflect the horrific nature of the crime or provide justice.

The sentence is inappropriate, Ms Connor says, and the official response to the crime “so far has not held others to account who are directly and indirectly responsible for her death, including the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and the directors of Integrity Care”.

“Nor has the official response adequately addressed the systemic issues which caused Ms Smith’s death,” says Ms Connor.

“This outcome fails to deliver justice for Ms Smith, her family, friends and community. It also reflects the devaluing of people with disability during the COVID pandemic – is that all Ann’s life was worth after years of prolonged torture and abuse?”

On 5 April, 2020 Ms Maione, who was Ms Smith’s only support worker, called Triple 000.

Paramedics arrived to find Ms Smith unresponsive with a pressure wound on her hip that was 15 cm deep and showed exposed bone.

She was covered in faeces and was sitting in a cane chair that was soiled and appeared to be decaying, while a large faecal stain on the carpet around the chair was also found.

She was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the wound was treated.

However, Ms Smith died the day after being admitted to hospital, at the age of 54, from multiple organ failure caused by the infected pressure wound.

She was also severely malnourished, had no bottom teeth due to disease and had yeast infections under both of her breasts.

During the sentencing, Supreme Court Justice Anne Bampton acknowledged Ms Maione owed a duty of care to Ms Smith as a worker under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Integrity Care, the service provider that employed Ms Maione, also owed a duty of care to Ms Smith and should have ensured Ms Maione was capable of providing care safely and competently, Justice Bampton added.

Justice Bampton concluded Ms Maione was “grossly negligent” in her care of Ms Smith.

“You did not mobilise her from the chair in which she was found, you did not toilet her properly and you did not clean her properly,” says Justice Bampton.

“You did not feed her a nutritional diet or monitor her intake.

“You knew you were incapable of properly supporting her and you did not seek assistance in providing for Ms Smith’s needs.

“Fatefully, you did not detect the pressure wound at an early stage and have it treated properly.

“Despite the deterioration in Ms Smith’s health, you did not seek assistance from your supervisor or medical professionals until it was too late.”

The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life imprisonment.

However, with Ms Maione now 70 years old and not an Australian citizen, Justice Bampton remarked that there was a possibility when she was released from prison she would be deported to Italy and become “an elderly woman who is at risk of finding herself alone in a foreign country with no support network”.

Justice Bampton said the “uncertainty” of whether she would be deported would “weigh heavily” on Ms Maione.

Banning orders not enough, more investigation needed

On 20 May, 2020 Integrity Care was given an infringement notice for failing to notify the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission of Ms Smith’s death.

The Commission then revoked the registration of Integrity Care on 14 August, 2020 and permanently banned Integrity Care from providing supports and services to NDIS participants.

On 10 June, 2021 an order was made under the NDIS Act permanently banning Amy Collins, one of the directors of Integrity Care, from being involved in providing disability supports or services.

Ms Connor is calling for Ms Smith’s death to have greater consequences for all involved.

“The directors of Integrity Care should also face charges of criminal neglect, for which the South Australian legislation makes adequate provision,” Ms Connor says.

“We also call for a thorough, truly independent and transparent investigation about the circumstances which led to Ms Smith’s death, including the involvement and potential accountability of the National Disability Insurance Agency.”

In sentencing, Justice Bampton outlined the transfer of Ms Smith’s information from Disability SA to the NDIS, when the scheme was rolled out across SA, which included a note that face-to-face meetings were recommended.

However, Justice Bampton explained that a planning meeting for Ms Smith in November 2018 was held by phone as in home appointments were not yet available in SA, and a plan review meeting in December 2019 was also held over the phone with Ms Smith and Ms Maione.

After that plan review, a note was made that Ms Smith received daily support of six hours per day, every day of the week from her support worker, plus two hours for shopping and two hours for cleaning.

The plan review note says, "This level of support currently meets Ms Smith’s needs for personal care, and she is very happy with the level of support.”

Justice Bampton concluded that if a face-to-face NDIS meeting had been held as recommended by Disability SA, “the inadequacy of Ms Smith’s sitting and sleeping arrangements and six hours of daily support would have been noted, and hopefully acted on”.

This was backed up by Associate Professor Craig Whitehead, Regional Clinical Director of Rehabilitation, Aged Care and Palliative Care in the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, who told the court Ms Smith would have needed the assistance of two support workers for at least two years prior to her death and she would have also needed a lifter.

He added, “It was inappropriate for a service provider to provide six hours of care by a single support worker without ensuring the client was able to manage with a single worker."

The other concern that Ms Conner has with the case is the victim-blaming comments that were reportedly made by Ms Maione’s lawyer during the trial, describing Ms Smith as a “stubborn and difficult person”.

“We have had to say this too many times: There is never an excuse for abuse and neglect of people with disability,” says Ms Conner.

“No other woman who was tortured and subsequently died in her home would have to endure the kind of victim-blaming comments that have been reported in the media.

“Ms Smith was systemically exploited, marginalised, targeted and isolated.”

If this story has caused you distress or raised concerns for you please call either 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, or Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services.

@livewireUIScripts