by CARMELO AMALFI
“THEY know what’s happening,” Fremantle social worker Chris Doyle says, counting down towards the WA coroner’s inquest into her sister Erin’s suicide in Mexico five years ago.
“The kids were very little when it happened. Their mum was sick and she got the wrong treatment. They get that, they saw it.”
Berg’s four children, now aged 12, 11, 10 and five, play in the park next to the Zephyr cafe in East Fremantle. Nearby is the spot where they’d sprinkled teaspoons of their mother’s ashes into the Swan River where they’d used to play.
The rest of her ashes were stitched into a teddy bear that her former partner Norman Berg pulls out of the back seat of his car.
“She lives on their beds, they take turns having her,” Mr Berg says in his first interview with the Herald since Berg, suffering post-natal depression after the birth of their fourth child, took her own life on May 10, 2008.
“She comes on outings. When they are ready to let her go, they will.”
The family plans to use the coroner’s findings and medical records obtained under FOI as part of a negligence claim against the WA health department and treating clinics, Alma Street and King Edward Hospital, for knowing about Berg’s planned suicide and doing nothing to stop it.
“We’re entering the fifth year since Erin’s suicide so we are all hoping this inquest may bring more closure for us personally, and for mental health services to learn and change practices that led to such an avoidable and horrific outcome for Erin,” Mrs Doyle says.
The social worker with 20 years’ experience says her 39-year-old sister, formerly an occupational therapist at Graylands hospital, had been released from Alma Street just weeks before carrying out her suicide plan in Mexico.
Her youngest child had been born the previous March and 11 months later, on Valentine’s Day 2008, Berg was admitted to King Edward Hospital as an involuntary patient.
It was there her detailed suicide plan was discovered by staff, who found a passport application, travellers’ cheques, an itinerary to Mexico and an overdue library slip for a book by right-to-die campaigner Philip Nitschke.
According to medical records, Berg was confronted with the material and King Edward staff tried to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There appears to have been no follow-up to that initial failed call.
By April 2, Berg’s status as an involuntary patient was overturned by the Medical Health Review Board, which the family claims had ignored warning signs before releasing her on a community treatment order under Alma Street’s care.
“Erin got in touch with Alma Street and asked them for permission to go away because she would breach her community order if she missed a visit,” Ms Doyle says. “They said yes.
“As an emergency department social worker, if I had this evidence I would be onto DFAT straight away and report it as a high risk. They knew the risk because King Edward knew.
“It breaks my heart when you view her records and see how many ways they could have shut this down.”
Berg was found unconscious in a hotel room in Tijuana and died 10 days later in hospital, with her sisters by her side.
Family members have flown in from the eastern states and taken time off work to attend the coroner’s inquest.
“Personally, it’s going to be a prick of a week,” Ms Doyle says. The family has hired a Melbourne barrister to ask questions at the inquiry from February 25, which ends March 1, the sixth birthday of Erin and Norman’s youngest daughter.
“I hope this is the last time I have to think in detail about what happened,” Ms Doyle says.
“It will be annoying. But we have a barrister who will be able to ask the hard questions.”