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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 March, 2003, 14:17 GMT
Profile: Broadmoor mental hospital
Broadmoor Hospital
Broadmoor opened as a mental institution in May 1863, and has since become synonymous with some of Britain's most notorious criminals. As investigations into alleged abuse of female patients continue, BBC News Online profiles the hospital.

When Broadmoor began life in the 1860s the attitude towards mental health was radically different.

Asylums were kept as far away from normal communities as possible - an 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality.

The Broadmoor 'criminal lunatic asylum', as it was called, was opened in 1863 with 95 female patients. A block for male patients followed a year later.

The hospital was built after the passing of the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1860 - also called the Broadmoor Act.

It drew attention to the poor conditions in British asylums such as Bethlehem Hospital, which was known as 'Bedlam'.

It also followed the setting up of the McNaughton Rules, a series of questions which determined whether a person was too insane to be charged with a criminal offence.

The site covered 290 acres (116 hectares) on the edge of the Berkshire moors some 32 miles from London.

The asylum was "intended for the reception, safe custody and treatment of persons who had committed crimes while actually insane or who became insane whilst undergoing sentence of punishment".

Peter Sutcliffe
'Yorkshire Ripper' Peter Sutcliffe is one patient at the hospital

The imposing building was designed by Major General Joshua Jebb, a military engineer who is said to have based the building off two other hospitals - Wakefield in Britain and Turkey's Scutari Hospital.

The site also included cultivated land and 57 cottages for the use of staff. Even a school was built on the grounds.

Security was reported to be very lax during the asylum's early years. The first Physician Superintendent, Dr John Meyer, was attacked by a patient while attending a service at the asylum's chapel soon after it opened.

Security improved after Dr Orange took over as the second head of the asylum a few years later.

Famous patient

The asylum hosted some of the British Empire's most notorious criminals. Roderick MacLean, who shot at Queen Victoria at Windsor Station, was sent here in 1882 after being found "not guilty by reason of insanity".

Possibly the most famous, though, was Dr William Chester Minor, the former US Army physician who spent 38 years in the hospital after killing a man outside his house in London after going insane.

While staying in Broadmoor, Dr Minor, a learned scholar with an enormous library, sent thousands of citations and quotations to the first Oxford English Dictionary.

Broadmoor changed from institution to hospital after the 1948 Criminal Justice Act.

In 1952 security was stepped up after a patient, J.T Straffe, escaped and killed a young girl while he was at large. Now there is a siren at the hospital - if it sounds, local schools and institutions have to lock their doors.

A cordon is also set up around the nearby village of Crowthorn and each car checked by the police.

In recent decades, the hospital's inmates have come to include Peter Sutcliffe, the 'Yorkshire Ripper' jailed for murdering prostitutes in the north of England in the 1970s.

It also houses some of the country's most serious sex offenders.

More recently, the hospital has been dogged by accusations of high levels of sexual abuse suffered by female patients.

It has been claimed a woman tried to hang herself last year after alleging she had been raped on a sports field by a fellow patient.

Broadmoor women faced sex abuse
07 Mar 03 |  Health
Broadmoor sexual abuse claims
06 Mar 03 |  Health

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