Page last updated at 13:46 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Escape prompts new security concerns

By Tom Warren
BBC News

Paul Caesar
Paul Caesar was sectioned under the mental health act in 1997

Fresh questions have been raised over the running of a secure mental hospital after the escape and death of a convicted killer.

Paul Caesar had been held at Springfield Hospital in Tooting, south London, for 11 years after killing a man in Battersea in 1996.

He failed to return after spending time unescorted in the hospital grounds on Tuesday morning and was later found dead.

It is believed Caesar was struck by a train at Balham railway station.

The 37-year-old's escape and subsequent death is the latest in a number of serious security breaches at the hospital.

In 2003 Nurse Mamade Chattun was beaten to death by Jason Cann in the lobby. He had been sectioned under the mental health act the day before the killing.

It is astonishing that there should be a fourth serious incident involving failures in security at the same hospital
Marjorie Wallace, Sane

Paranoid schizophrenic John Barrett left the hospital in September 2004 after being given permission to walk around the grounds unattended.

He bought a set of kitchen knives and the next day fatally stabbed Denis Finnegan after ambushing him as he cycled through Richmond Park. Mental health campaigners said it exposed widespread flaws in the system.

In February 2006 former patient Sean Perry killed fitness instructor Matthew Carter in a random attack.

It later emerged Perry's family had wanted him readmitted, following his discharge in June 2005, after he had refused anti-psychotic drugs.

And in November 2008 a murder suspect and a suspected burglar fled the hospital while undergoing psychiatric assessment. It is alleged the burglary suspect raided several shops while on the run.

Sadiq Khan MP
Sadiq Khan MP is meeting hospital officials to discuss the latest incident

A recent Healthcare Commission report criticised the hospital for cleanliness problems and an over-reliance on temporary staff.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said: "It is astonishing that there should be a fourth serious incident involving failures in security at the same hospital, putting members of the public at risk.

"The most notorious was the way John Barrett, despite repeated warnings from his girlfriend, was allowed to abscond and who went on to kill Denis Finnegan in Richmond Park.

"These incidents may be reflecting other failures within the hospital, highlighted by the Healthcare Commission's criticisms of a lack of engagement between patients and staff.

"We hope this latest incident will not lead to tragedy but that it will ensure improvements, particularly in better conditions such as cleanliness and less reliance on temporary staff."

Tooting Labour MP Sadiq Khan said he was "absolutely flabbergasted" after security at the hospital had been breached again.

'Serious concerns'

"Like many constituents I need to be convinced that those running the hospital are on top of keeping dangerous patients secure [by] not absconding and posing a serious threat to local residents or themselves," he said.

"The hospital does some great work but events such as this, which appear to be becoming more frequent, undo a lot of the goodwill that has been built up among local residents.

"I will be meeting the chief executive to discuss my serious concerns about various matters at Springfield Hospital."

Judy Wilson, acting chief executive of South West London and St George's NHS Mental Health Trust, which runs Springfield Hospital, said: "We would like to send our sympathy to the family of Mr Caesar.

"The trust is committed to learning all that it can from this serious incident and will be conducting a full investigation."

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