Ashworth staff `sold drugs to patients'

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Staff at Ashworth Hospital are alleged to have sold prescription drugs such as Temazepam to patients, with around pounds 10,000 worth of banknotes circulating at one time, it is claimed.

Hardcore pornography was also traded in the Personality Disorder Unit, with one child porn video fetching more than pounds 100, according to Stephen Daggett, a former patient at the Merseyside secure hospital.

His dossier into the alleged abuses, passed to ministers by the Labour MP Alice Mahon, helped precipitate a top-level inquiry into Ashworth and the suspension of the hospital's chief executive, Janice Miles, and two nurses.

The Department of Health said on Friday that a "substantial" amount of pornography had been found on the ward and also announced that a child had been taken into care after police visited a former Ashworth patient.

Ashworth, whose most infamous patient is the Moors murderer Ian Brady, is one of three special hospitals in England housing some of the country's most dangerous mentally ill offenders. It is not the first time the hospital, which has 500 patients, has come under fire. In 1992, complaints about persistent neglect and abuse of patients by a substantial minority of staff were upheld.

Mr Daggett, who absconded from Ashworth for 10 days last year, compiled the list of allegations when he returned. Despite a nurse being sacked for gross professional misconduct, Mr Daggett was removed to Rampton and no information was given to the DoH. The hospital continued to maintain press reports were "unfounded" until Mr Daggett's dossier arrived at the department.

In the dossier, parts of which have been seen by The Independent, Mr Daggett alleges that there was "widespread abuse and sale of prescription- based drugs" on Lawrence Ward in the Personality Disorder Unit. Staff would remove bottles of pills and doctor prescription cards, or drop tablets on the floor, so that they could not be dispensed to patients but were later sold on.

"There was very little in the way of monitoring to ensure that drug stocks were correctly maintained," claims Mr Daggett. Patients also had access to more money than they were supposed to - from visitors bringing it in or staff handing it over.

"Technically patients were only allowed to hold pounds 25 when on leave of absence from the hospital," Mr Daggett writes in the dossier. "I regularly left the hospital with amounts in excess of pounds 50 without a check being made and the money was handed out without question."

Mr Daggett also says that there was a brisk trade in pornographic material inside the hospital, with visitors sometimes bringing in tapes. "Several of the nastier tapes commanded quite high prices. Ordinary `adult porn' fetched approximately pounds 15-25 a tape. Prices for child porn and other nasty material were negotiable but one tape fetched in excess of pounds 100."

He also says that he had concerns that a young girl was put at risk by being brought into the ward, including the claim that she was left unsupervised with a sex offender.

"He disappeared into a secluded area of the garden with the girl and while I cannot be certain that any abuse was taking place, I became very concerned that it may be," he writes. "There were also some very serious rumours going around the ward that there was a pornographic video and photographs of this child at ward level."

Stuart Eales, branch secretary of the Prison Officers' Association at Ashworth said last night: "I have never heard the allegation [of staff selling drugs]. If the allegation were true the POA have grave concerns about nurses involved in any illegal activity."