ashworth hospital

Ashworth Hospital

Initially, the hospital was called the Moss Side house. It was built in the 1830’s as a home for children from the Merseyside workhouses, but it quickly changed to house the ‘lunatics’ from the surrounding areas, predominately Liverpool. During the First World War, it was temporarily renamed the Military Red Cross Hospital to treat soldiers suffering from mental or nervous disorders.

The Mental Health Act of 1959 came into fruition, and demanded major changes of not only Moss Side house, but of all psychiatric institutions within the country. Clear and definitive roles were given, and Moss Side House (or Ashworth Hospital as it was soon to be known as), Broadmoor and Rampton were all declared as high-security hospitals. The Broadmoor overspill unit, named Park Lane Hospital was soon merged in with the Moss Side house, creating the new and improved Ashworth Hospital.

There have been two major public enquiries into the operations and treatment at Ashworth hospital: The Blom-Cooper inquiry in 1992 and the Fallon inquiry in 1998.

Blom-Cooper Inquiry

In April 1991, the Committee of Inquiry into Complaints about Ashworth was set up, with Louis Blom-Cooper appointed as Chairman. The goal was to investigate the death of a patient named Sean Walton, who died whilst in solitary confinement in March 1988. The investigation also delved into the inner workings of the hospital, alongside complaints and allegations which consisted of:

The improper care and ill-treatment of four specific cases (including Sean Walton).

The involvement of various authorities in the operation of the complaints system.

The progress of 10 particular cases through the system.

The committee presented their inquiry and its findings to the Health Secretary in the summer of 1992.

  • Findings of Inquiry

The inquiry found that Walton, 20, had been admitted to Ashworth five years previously for his crimes as a sex offender. The night before he died, he was cleaning the ward’s toilets as a punishment for making sexual remarks and advances towards another patient. He attacked a nursing assistant with a mop, and in response, the assistant struck back at him violently with a snooker cue and threw him into solitary confinement. Walton was found dead the next morning, with his legs hanging over the side of the bed and his pyjamas around his ankles. The cause of death was determined as unknown by both the post-mortem and the inquiry.

However, as the report itself says: ‘Had Sean Walton not died, the incidents of the snooker cue and seclusion would have remained unknown to the public. The whole sequence of events was symptomatic of the pattern of patient life on First Ward in the late 1980s.’

In 1990, patient Geoffrey Steele was found in one of the shower rooms covered in multiple cuts and bruises. The 36 year old wasShower Room known to be mentally disturbed, and he suffered vivid hallucinations on a regular basis. The inquiry showed that he was systematically bullied and beaten by two members of staff (Colin Sheeran and Robert Keith) because he dropped some crockery in the ward’s kitchen.

A female patient named Gillian Darnell alleged that she was sexually assaulted repeatedly for multiple months in 1985 by one of the nurses, Peter Williams. She claimed that he threatened to kill her and burn her father’s house down if she spoke to anyone about the abuse. The hospital administration were told of her claims at the time, and failed to investigate the matter. Williams denied the allegations, stating that he didn’t know why Darnell was accusing him of such crimes.

Another patient, Gary Harrington hanged himself in his room in May 1990, and the inquiry found that the staff were aware of his suicidal tendencies, but provided no care or treatment, and left him alone without any supervision. After finding his body, it took hospital staff over three hours to contact his next of kin, displaying the lack of formal procedures and organisation within the hospital. ‘The response of the hospital management fell short of acceptable standards,’ claimed the report.

The Fallon Inquiry

It was a telephone call in September 1996 which triggered the second inquiry into the operations at Ashworth Hospital. Stephen Daggett, a convicted sex offender had been a patient at the hospital, before he escaped on a shopping outing into Liverpool. He claimed the only way he could expose the gruesome activities going on at Ashworth was to escape and report them himself. He agreed to return to the hospital, on the condition that his claims were investigated.

Daggett stated that the hospital was filled with pornographic material and inmates had full access to alcohol and drugs. He also claimed that a young girl had made many visits and was allowed to play, in the garden in one of the wards, with a convicted paedophile.

On January 1997, a raid was ordered on the Lawrence ward. (A section of the Personality Disorder Unit) It found that one of the top three high security hospitals was actually the centre for the circulation of hard-core pornographic material. The ward shop contained almost 50 hard-core pornography videos, and a further 800 were found amongst the patients themselves. The hard-core porn included videos of bestiality, child abuse and sadomasochism, and many of the videos were locked in a cabinet to which only the patients had the key. The report shows that children and women’s underwear were found in several renowned sex offender’s bedrooms, and that the 115 patients on the ward were clearly in charge and given free reign.

Day Room

A fortnight after the raid took place, a young eight year old girl was taken into care. She was the daughter of a former inmate of Ashworth, who had been regularly taking her into the hospital on his visits, proving Daggett’s most horrific accusation to be true. The report deemed that there was no evidence of sexual abuse or assault on the girl, but there were clear signs that she was being groomed by several patients.

The inquiry was published on January 12th 1999 and resulted in the suspension of five members of staff, including the hospital’s chief executive, Janice Miles. The findings of the Fallon inquiry shed light on the dark and secretive inner workings of one of the notorious hospitals in Britain, demonstrating the lack of skill and compassion among staff. The hospital was overcrowded, under-staffed, and poorly equipped, which ultimately led to scandal and chaos.

Both inquiries demonstrated the appalling conditions in which patients were subjected to, and reflected that very few changes had been made since the days of the old Bedlam hospital. Either the building had to be pulled down, or significant changes must be made. It was the latter which prevailed.

  • Report’s Plan for Change

Ashworth was given four months to create an action plan to implement necessary changes:

Four NHS employees named within the Fallon report were still working at the hospital, and they needed to be disciplined.

Arrangements for dealing with people with personality disorders was to be reviewed.

4.5 million pounds was to be invested into improving the hospital’s security, including metal detectors and sniffer dogs , and a further 1.5 million spent on increasing security staff.

Visits by children other than relatives of patients banned since September 1998.

Review of all aspects of security, including the use of post and telephones.

Social Services Inspectorate to conduct inquiries into social work aspects.

The Modern Ashworth Hospital

Ashworth Hospital holds a total of 14 single storey wards, two of which are known as acute admission wards. The remaining 12 wards cover a diverse spectrum of mental illnesses and treatment needs, from the high dependency wards to the personality disorder wards. Each individual ward contains their own garden, and patients are encouraged to spend time nurturing the nature around them. Patients are settled in their ward depending on their mental illness, meaning that patients with similar problems and illnesses are grouped together, making it a safer environment for everyone involved.

Ashworth North

Despite the wide range of psychological illnesses catered for at Ashworth Hospital, one aspect they all have in common is that they are a threat to themselves and those around them, and the majority of patients are labelled as ‘dangerous.’

  • Progress Through Ashworth

(As described by the Mersey Care NHS )

Each patient’s stay at Ashworth Hospital involves four distinct phases:

1.Admission and assessment
2.Behaviour stabilisation
3.Treatment and engagement

Each patient moves through these phases at his own speed which will depend on many issues, meaning it is very difficult to say just how long any one person will remain at the hospital. Patients admitted to the high secure service at Ashworth Hospital (or at Broadmoor or Rampton hospitals) must meet very specific selection criteria. They are admitted from a number of different places including health care and criminal justice facilities including: medium secure services, courts and prisons.

Ashworth hospital has sustained a drastic change since the 1990’s, demonstrating a core of highly trained staff and colourful rehabilitation programme. However, despite all the changes, the history if Ashworth will forever linger among us, as will the names of the criminals who dwell there.

Infamous Patients

Ian Brady – Known as the Moors Murderer, along with Myra Hindley, he killed five children and was sentenced to life in prison in 1966. In 1985, Brady was diagnosed as a psychopath and was sent to Ashworth Hospital, where he remains to this day, despite recent attempts to be moved back to prison.

Charles Bronson (Michael Gordon Peterson) – Spending the majority of his life behind bars and bare-knuckle boxing, Bronson earned his nickname as ‘the most violent prisoner in Britain.’ Known for his roof-top protests and violent crimes, Bronson claims: “I’m a nice guy, but sometimes I lose all my senses and become nasty. That doesn’t make me evil, just confused.”

Mark CornerMurdered two women shortly after being released from Fazakerley Mental Hospital in 2003. Much criticism was given over his level of care and his early discharge, and he was charged with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was detained under the Mental Health Act at Ashworth hospital.

Paul CorriganA sex offender, Corrigan kidnapped, raped and murdered 13 year-old John Haddon. After being sent to Ashworth Hospital, he became involved in the Fallon Inquiry. It was reported that a young girl was visiting the sex-offender, and and was allowed to engage with other known paedophiles on the same ward.

Richard GwilymKnown as the ‘Cardiff Ripper,’ Gwilym is alleged to have killed over five victims before his capture and incarceration at Ashworth Hospital.

Peter Hemming – A convicted paedophile and involved in the Fallon Inquiry alongside Corrigan and whistle-blower Stephen Daggett. Residing in the Personality Disorder Unit (PDU), Hemming was allowed contact with a young girl brought onto the ward, who was reportedly given alcohol and drugs. On witnessing Hemming bounce the young girl on his knee whilst only in her underwear, Daggett, a former patient reported him to the authorities.

Robert Sartin – Responsible for a mass shooting in the town of Monkseaton, in North Tyneside. Dressed in black and armed with a shot gun, Sartin killed one man and injured 14 others in a hateful rage. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic after his arrest in 1989 and found unfit to stand trial for his crimes. He was sent to the previously named Moss Side Special Hospital in 1990.

Dale Cregan – Responsible for the murders of PCs Fiona Bone and Hicola Huges, alongside David and Mark Short. Cregan was handed a whole-life sentence in June this year (2013.) After a month of hunger striking, Cregan was sent to the maximum security Ashworth hospital. 

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