Security in the Spotlight after Killer's Escape; Questions Raised over 'Strangler' Fleeing Unit

Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), January 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Security in the Spotlight after Killer's Escape; Questions Raised over 'Strangler' Fleeing Unit


Byline: RACHEL WEARMOUTH

QUESTIONS continue to be asked about security at a psychiatric unit after a killer escaped from a Tyneside clinic.

Phillip Westwater - dubbed the Black Dog Strangler - was at large for around 12 hours on Wednesday after he fled St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth.

The 44-year-old, who is a patient at the Bamburgh Unit which specialises in personality disorders, was caught in city centre gay bar The Bank after a member of the public recognised him from a picture online.

Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust has revealed Westwater was taking escorted leave to a restaurant within the hospital grounds - something which had been assessed and sanctioned by the Ministry of Justice.

The trust has said Westwater's escape is the first and only such incident at the Bamburgh Unit and have moved to reassure people about its security regime.

The Chronicle has put a series of questions to health bosses.

And we can reveal the incident is one of a string at the organisation's mental health services' units.

The Bamburgh Unit neighbours the Roycroft Unit, which was at the centre of an abuse probe last year.

A service improvement team was called in after the death of Samuel Willis, a 17-year-old from Stockton, Teesside, who was being cared for at the Roycroft unit, in August 2010.

He was on a supervised trip to Whitby when a huge wave overpowered him and he was swept out to sea.

An inquest into Samuel's death heard that no risk assessments were carried out before the trip. Samuel's mother, Paula Suckling, said she believed her son would still be alive if staff had taken more care.

Although no staff were held responsible, the trust carried out a six-week internal investigation which resulted in new policies at the clinic.

In 2011, the spotlight was shone on the Roycroft Unit when allegations of the abuse of young people emerged.

The trust faced accusations of a culture of abuse and mismanagement as it was claimed staff taunted and degraded some of the troubled teens who were being cared for at the unit.

The probe led to three members of staff, a mixture of clinical and support staff, being sacked.

A further three who failed to report the psychological abuse were suspended but faced no further action.

In January last year, police were called to the unit in what was described as a "near riot" by one staff member.

Now more questions are being raised over the trust's management of its mental health services and security.

A trust spokesman denied security was an issue.

He said: "The trust takes public and patient safety extremely seriously and always strives to provide safe and therapeutic care for patients whilst minimising risks in relation to absconsion.

"Planned or escorted leave is an important part of any patient's treatment plan, especially when working towards their recovery.

"Arrangements for escorted leave are rigorously risk-assessed, made on an individual basis and regularly reviewed.

"The decision to grant leave involves the views of the patient's multi-disciplinary clinical team and, when appropriate, input from the patient, their carers and family members as well as external agencies such as the police and Ministry of Justice."

Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, said the trust must be clear about the security of patients at St Nicholas Hospital as the organisation is unable to fully answer all of the Chronicle's questions.

She said: "I am sure the trust appreciates the importance of reassuring the people of Newcastle with regard to security and wellbeing of residents at St Nicholas. …

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