Gaynor White’s Family Devastated By Her Murder -updated

Back in February we wrote about the killing of Christchurch pensioner Gaynor White, and of how her murder highlighted mental health issues in New Zealand.

Shaun Skilling, the man who battered to death the 62 year old widow in her own home, was said to have had a history of mental health problems.

When his family contacted police to tell them about their concerns over his erratic behaviour they were told, allegedly, that there was nothing that could be done as he had committed no crime.  His family pleaded for him to be admitted to a mental health facility.

They said that had the police and psychiatric services handled the situation properly the outcome may have been very different.

Skilling’s family was said to have a history of mental health issues and that he himself was a “homebake heroin addict.” His father died in a car crash hours after being taken to a mental health facility by police after a violent episode. The day before Mrs White was killed Shaun told his partner that he would kill himself in the same way that his father had died.

In the preceding weeks his family had tried desperately to seek help for their son but say they were repeatedly let down by mental health services, even though they had begged for help.

This morning Shaun Skilling pleaded guilty to the brutal murder of Gaynor White, but it has done little to relieve the anguish of his victim’s family.

A report in The Press said

Brother-in-law Jon White, 56, said Gaynor’s family remained heartbroken by her loss.

”It was like she won the lotto in reverse. She was asleep in bed, then he bludgeoned her and he systematically burgled her house, took her jewellery, took her big flat screen, and computer and he just dealt off all the jewellery to people he know and drove around town all day in her car like it was just nothing,” he said…

… White’s son Craig, 33, said, Skilling had taken ”our mother from us in a manner that was heinously brutal and heartless”. ”In reality the guilty plea today does not make us feel better. It does not take away the pain we live with every day. It does not bring back a Mum, grandmother or friend,”…

…”We can only hope that the court takes full consideration of the aggravating circumstances around this case and the sentence given reflects how the crime has affected the family and the expectations of the community.” Read the full report here

Our deepest condolences go to Mrs White’s family, who now must wait to hear what punishment is to be handed out to Skilling.

We’ve said before that one may judge the character of a society by how it treats the weak, the old, vulnerable, the most easily forgotten and that includes those with mental illness.

Update – Skilling report witheld

The following day this appeared on Stuff:

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) is refusing to release an internal report on the way Shaun Skilling was handled before he murdered Christchurch widow Gaynor White.

Yesterday, Skilling, 22, pleaded guilty in the High Court in Christchurch to murdering White, 62, on the night of February 18 in her Huntsbury Hill home.

Skilling’s family claim their son and brother was taken to psychiatric services at Christchurch or Hillmorton hospitals at least twice in the weeks before the murder. He was depressed, addicted to heroin and suicidal.

CDHB chief of psychiatry Sue Nightingale told The Press no formal complaint was received by the CDHB regarding its care of Skilling…

Update 4 February 2011 –  after the sentencing of Shaun Skilling

4 February 2011

Drug Policy creates opportunity for murder and mayhem

As Shaun Skilling begins an 18-year sentence for the brutal murder of a Christchurch woman last year, the Government and their grossly inadequate Drug Policy must take their share of the blame for allowing the opportunity for this to happen.

Christine Davey, Sensible Sentencing’s Spokesperson on Drug issues, reminds us that just the week before the murder, Shaun Skilling’s family desperately tried to get him admitted to a mental health facility because they were concerned he would harm himself or somebody else, but were turned away.

Skilling was a heroin addict who had a long history of dealings with mental health services, but under current Drug Policy, as highlighted in the Law Commission Review, Compulsory Treatment Orders are almost impossible for families to access, and other help is only available for addicts who agree to have it.

We read of a similar situation last weekend, where a 6-month’s pregnant P addict was discovered living in squalor in Auckland, surrounded by her drug utensils. Probably knowing the difficulties involved in detaining her, Police were prepared to release her on bail back to her squalor and the potential for further P-use, despite the real danger to her unborn child.

There are more victims in these stories than those who are murdered. The drug users’ families are victims too, having to stand back and watch their family members destroy themselves and perhaps other innocent people as well, while the authorities turn their backs on them.

John Key’s P Plan promised us an overhaul of the Alcohol and Addiction Act which would make Compulsory Treatment Orders easier to access, but told us this would take 3 years to achieve.

Ms Davey wonders how many more innocent people will die in the meantime.


Abuse of the young and the old is widespread in NZ, recent attacks on elderly people include:

  • A 72 year old man left shaken and bruised after being robbed at gunpoint at his home in Beerescourt Rd Road, Hamilton
  • Lois Dear, 66, murdered and sexually assulted in her classroom at Tokoroa primary school
  • Retired teacher John Rowe, murdered by two teenage girls in his Opotiki home
  • An elderly couple who were hopsitalized after a home invasion in New Plymouth
  • An elderly man kicked to the ground and assaulted by a truck driver in Manukau
  • An 85 year old man badly beaten during a home invasion at his Bethesda Village retirement home in Wiri.
  • 86 year old Patricia Burrows was left with a fractured pelvis, cuts and bruises after she was mugged in a Christchurch shopping mall
  • Yin Ping Yang, 80, died following a savage attack during a home invasion in Manurewa East that lasted for several hours.

Also read:

“We’re Not A Murder Capital” of New Zealand – Christchurch Mayor

What Lies Beneath – “Bizarre and high-profile murders of Christchurch women have spawned the title “Crimechurch”. Is there something uniquely brutal lurking beneath the Garden City’s polished veneer?”  NZ Listener Magazine Article

Other posts tagged Christchurch and Mental Health