Up to 304 such patients are being kept in long-stay institutions for the mentally handicapped, according to Department of Health figures. The disclosure has outraged the families of mentally handicapped people.
The problem has been exposed by the security fiasco surrounding convicted paedophile Trevor Holland, who recently ran away from a nurse while on a trip to Chessington World of Adventures. Only four months earlier, it transpired, he had escaped from Harperbury Hospital - a Hertfordshire hospital for the mentally handicapped.
Holland, 50, has convictions dating back to 1964 for police assault, theft, deception and child sex offences and was once resident at Rampton. At Harperbury, many of the 239 residents are allowed to walk freely around the extensive grounds, often unsupervised. There is no secure perimeter fence.
Dr Freda Lessman, chairman of the Friends of Harperbury Hospital Association, whose son is a long-term resident, said: "The extent of this problem is outrageous. It is a time-bomb waiting to explode. Potentially dangerous people are living cheek by jowl with our children. We learned of Holland through his escape. But who else have we got in there?"
Britain's mental health laws require that mentally ill people convicted of violent offences and offences endangering public safety should only be cared for in secure state hospitals such as Rampton and Broadmoor. However, they may also be diagnosed as needing specific treatment for learning difficulties. It was this route allowed Holland to be legally placed in Harperbury.
David Sherratt, a director of the Horizon NHS Trust which runs the hospital, said: "Harperbury has only a degree of security, but the whole regime is not secure. Obviously we came to the conclusion that this individual needed treatment at a more secure unit." The more secure unit took Holland on a trip to the zoo and he escaped again.Reuse content