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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 16:45 GMT
Broadmoor sexual abuse claims
Broadmoor High Security Hospital
Broadmoor High Security Hospital
A whistleblower is calling for an independent inquiry into a culture of serious sexual assault at Broadmoor high security hospital.

Julia Wassell, the former director of women's services at Broadmoor, alleges three female patients committed suicide and others attempted to kill themselves after male patients abused them.

A survey of just 28 women, carried out by Ms Wassell at the hospital in Berkshire in September 2001, found a high level of sexual abuse.

Between them, the women said they had experienced 1,008 incidents of verbal abuse, 64 of sexual harassment, 56 of sexual abuse, five rapes and six consensual sexual acts over the preceding three years.

Broadmoor's regulations do not allow sexual intercourse to take place between patients.

Ms Wassell and her union Unison say there must be an inquiry into the events at the hospital. However, the Department of Health says an external review has already been carried out.

It happened under tables and in the pews at the church
Julia Wassell
She said her reports led to her being victimised and forced out of her job in April 2002 and she claimed constructive dismissal, recently settling out-of-court for an undisclosed sum with the hospital.

Broadmoor housed over 350 men and 67 women at the time. Men can only be admitted to the hospital after committing murder, manslaughter or sexual offences.

Seventeen of the women there at that time had committed no offence. The majority of the rest were there for offences such as arson.

Sexual activity

Ms Wassell said she was first made aware male and female patients were left together after an allegation of sexual abuse during an unsupervised session at the sports field in June 2000.

Film from the hospital's security cameras showed couples "in various degrees of sexual activity" around the sports field.

The hospital has let down Julia, the NHS and, most importantly, the women patients in their care
Dave Prentis, Unison
This was treated as an isolated incident, but unsupervised sessions at the sports field were ended.

But in March 2001, Ms Wassell went to her managers to report female patients concerns after patients' council, where men and women were again allowed to mix unsupervised.

Several women requested pregnancy tests after these sessions and one woman made an allegation of rape and indecent assault.

Minister notified

Police investigated the rape, but found there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

The woman later attempted to hang herself.

Ms Wassell alleges that managers, up to the level of chief executive, did not act when she raised concerns, leaving women vulnerable to further abuse.

She eventually resigned in April 2001 after being subjected to what she claims were minor disciplinary complaints.

Prior to her resignation, Ms Wassell reported her concerns to health minister Jacquie Smith via her local MP.

Ms Wassell said the Clinical Services Centre at the hospital co-ordinated the mixed activities.

She said: "I sometimes think the patients at Broadmoor were cleverer than the staff.

"Patients found opportunities to have sexual activity."

She said male patients would surround women so staff could not see what was happening.

"They would stand in a circle around women. Or on the sports field, they would stand in a line between staff and female patients.

"It happened under tables and in the pews at the church."

She said having a whistleblowing policy was not enough, and that senior managers had to abide by it.

Shock

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "The hospital has let down Julia, the NHS and, most importantly, the women patients in their care.

"It's hard to listen to the details of the case and not be shocked. Shocked by the attitude of managers to the women in their care and shocked at the treatment meted out to Julia for raising her concerns."

He added: "I understand that all mixed gender activities ceased just days after Julia handed in her resignation, but a lot of damage has already been done and that cannot be brushed under the carpet, which is why Unison is calling for a full independent inquiry.

"We owe that to the women, their families and to Julia."

Review

In a statement, the West London Mental Health NHS Trust, which oversees Broadmoor denied it had tried to impose a gagging order or that Ms Wassell had been victimised.

It said Ms Wassell's concerns were due to be discussed by the board, once she had compiled a report, but that she instigated the whistleblowing policy before this could occur.

The statement added: "Allegations made by patients have to be investigated to determine as far as possible exactly what happened, as patients may give accurate accounts or accounts which are affected by their mental health problem.

"Risks of inappropriate or potentially dangerous behaviour between patients are a constant feature of high security hospitals.

"Risks cannot be eliminated entirely and a balance has to be struck to maintain a therapeutic environment and preserve the rights of patients."

Broadmoor and the Department of Health confirmed an external review had taken place into the allegations in March 2002.

A department spokesman said: "The response has meant that mixed sex activities suspended prior to and during the review will not be reinstated and single sex activities are being developed."

Women's services at Broadmoor are to close over the next two to three years, and patients will be transferred to a new women-only facility at Rampton Hospital.


SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Mental health 'sectioning'
20 Aug 02 |  Health


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