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Tuesday, January 12, 1999 Published at 21:07 GMT


Ashworth: A catalogue of shame

Ashworth Hospital: pornography was rife

The inquiry into the Ashworth top security hospital uncovered an appalling catalogue of mismanagement and security lapses at the unit.

The report by Peter Fallon QC found financial irregularities, drug abuse, pornography and a poor quality of patient care were all present at the hospital.

The main allegations centred on a ward in the personality disorder unit at the hospital. They included:

  • An eight-year-old girl was allowed repeatedly to visit a ward containing patients with personality disorders who had a record of sex offences against children;
  • She was given unsupervised access to one patient who had been convicted of indecent assault and attempted rape;
  • She also visited another patient who had kidnapped, tortured, molested, mutilated and eventually murdered a 13-year-old boy;
  • The report concludes the girl was being "groomed for abuse";
  • The father of the child brought pornographic videos into the hospital;
  • Patients from the personality disorder ward were allowed to roam around the hospital;
  • Routine searching did not take place;
  • A small group of patients, lead by a child murderer, had intimidated patients and staff;
  • There was a drugs problem on the ward and throughout the whole hospital;
  • There were financial irregularities concerning a shop on the ward which appeared to be dealing in pornographic materials, including videos;
  • A credit card business was being run from the ward;
  • A child murderer ran an unofficial shop from a side ward;

The report found security was almost non-existent. Steven Daggett, the patient who originally drew attention to the problems at Ashworth, was able, while a patient at the unit, to change his name by deed poll, acquire a new passport and driving licence, and use a credit card to take out a large sum of money prior to absconding.

A full scale search in January 1997 revealed a stock of children's underwear in the room of a man who had molested girls, and male pornography in the room of a child murderer.

Both men had VCRs used for copying videos.

Fallon recommendations

Among the recommendations of the Fallon inquiry which have been accepted by the government are:

  • The Personality Disorder Unit at Ashworth be managed separately as a small unit, of around 50 patients at most;
  • No more than 8 to 12 patients per ward;
  • Full searches of PDU rooms to be carried out on a regular basis;
  • An independent review of all aspects of physical security at Ashworth, to be repeated at regular intervals;
  • Visitors and staff to be subject to search regimes;
  • No child under the age of 16 should be allowed to visit any patient on a ward at a hospital such as Ashworth;
  • A security intelligence unit to be developed at the hospital;
  • Ashworth should review the control and distribution of prescribed drugs to remove the risk of nurses becoming involved in their illegal distribution;
  • A thorough reviewing of night staffing at the hospital.

The report also recommends the transfer of high security facilities such as Ashworth to regional networks of forensic psychiatric services.

[ image: Peter Fallon QC chaired the inqjuiry]
Peter Fallon QC chaired the inqjuiry
It also calls for the urgent provision of more medium secure and long-term medium secure accommodation within the regional networks.

A further recommendation is for the creation of a new sentence called a "reviewable sentence" for people with a severe personality disorder who pose a grave risk to the public.

The sentence would allow a judicially-led body to review the offender's history and medical record as he approached his earliest release date, and renew his sentence for up to two years at a time if he was deemed to still pose a risk.

The Department of Health and the Home Office has also been urged to set up a working group to develop a standardised assessment protocol for severe personality disorder.

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