Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Published at 19:54 GMT


Last chance for Ashworth

Pornography and drug abuse were commonplace at Ashworth

Sorting out the mess that is Ashworth top security hospital will be a massive task, says BBC North of England correspondent Kevin Bocquet.

Minutes after hearing the Health Secretary Frank Dobson describe Ashworth as "a mess from top to bottom", the hospital's acting chief executive Peter Clarke promised "deep and lasting change across the organisation."

But to succeed in running Ashworth smoothly, the new management will have to buck a trend which goes back a decade, to when the hospital was established through the merging of two smaller institutions, Moss Side and Park Lane.

Sprawled over a 250-acre site on the northern outskirts of Liverpool, Ashworth is one of Britain's three top security psychiatric hospitals. The others are Broadmoor and Rampton.

Behind Ashworth's grim, featureless walls are housed 425 patients, most of them convicted criminals. Of these, about 120 are considered incurable - most, in layman's terms, are psychopaths.

They are accomodated in the Personality Disorder Unit, or PDU, and they include some of the most dangerous murderers, rapists, and child-abusers in the country.

Two of them were named in the Fallon report:

  • Peter Hemming, a man with "a very substantial history of paedophile activity with young girls, including assault and attempted rape";

  • Paul Corrigan, who has a history of abduction and buggery of young boys, including the "kidnapping, torture, sexual assault, mutilation and eventual murder of a 13-year-old."

The most notorious of Ashworth's patients is the Moors murderer, Ian Brady.

It was in the Personality Disorder Unit that the abuses uncovered by the Fallon inquiry were carried out.

Intelligent and manipulative

[ image: Peter Fallon QC condemned the regime at Ashworth]
Peter Fallon QC condemned the regime at Ashworth
The report concluded that many of the patients were highly intelligent and extremely manipulative.

Although outnumbered four to one by the staff, they were effectively running the unit, dealing in drugs, alcohol and pornography, and operating financial scams worth thousands of pounds.

But this was not the first time Ashworth had been criticised in an official report.

Seven years ago, the Blom-Cooper enquiry uncovered appalling evidence of physical and psychological abuse by staff of patients.

That led to reforms, but critics say they went too far, allowing the development of the culture of corruption now uncovered by Fallon.

During the ten troubled years of Ashworth's history there have been other crises, including two incidents in which patients were murdered by fellow-inmates, and one occasion when a psychiatric worker was taken hostage by a knife-wielding patient.

Fallon concluded in his report that it was doubtful even the most talented management could turn Ashworth around, and he said the hospital should close.

One more chance

[ image:  ]
But this was the only one of his recommendations rejected by the Health Secretary, Frank Dobson.

Mr Dobson has called for one more effort to run Ashworth efficiently, and he has asked retired Royal Navy admiral Ian Pirnie to devise an action plan.

Acting chief executive Peter Clarke, says significant changes have already taken place, and claimed he and his staff would rise to the challenge of overcoming the problems revealed by the inquiry.

But it seems inconceivable that there can be any more reprieves for Ashworth.

With a significant lobby of psychiatric experts calling for smaller, more manageable units in which to treat the most difficult patients, the hospital's days will surely be numbered, if there are any more scandals.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

12 Jan 99 | Health
Shameful top security hospital escapes closure

12 Jan 99 | Health
Difficult decisions when public at risk

12 Jan 99 | Health
Ashworth: A catalogue of shame

12 Jan 99 | UK
Hospital's troubled past

Internet Links

Department of Health

Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Personality Disorder Unit, Ashworth Special Hospital

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99