Fourth person suspended at Ashworth

A senior psychiatrist has become the fourth member of staff to be suspended at Ashworth Hospital on Merseyside, after the discovery of pornography and alleged paedophile activity. It follows the suspension of its chief executive, Janice Miles, and two nurses last Friday, when the Department of Health ordered an immediate inquiry into "extremely serious" allegations concerning the Personality Disorder Unit, including claims of drug and alcohol misuse and financial irregularity.

New, stringent measures were announced by the acting chief executive, Erville Millar, who denied the hospital was "out of control" and said yesterday's suspension did not imply guilt but was made in the doctor's best interests.

"This hospital is not out of control. It is very much in control and it is very clear what it is trying to do and what it is trying to investigate," he said.

Ward-based visiting by children has been banned throughout the hospital, as have visits to the hospital by ex-patients. Mr Millar confirmed that any videos brought in for patients would be vetted by staff, as was normal procedure, and any gifts and packages brought in for patients were also searched.

He confirmed that a computer and a modem had been removed from a ward and patients from Lawrence Ward had been relocated in the hos- pital, with concern for their safety.

The Secretary of State for Health, Stephen Dorrell, told the Commons yesterday that the inquiry, headed by retired circuit judge Peter Fallon QC, would report within the year. Its report will be made public.

The action was taken after Alice Mahon, Labour MP for Halifax, gave ministers a 60-page dossier compiled by a former Ashworth patient, Stephen Daggett, who absconded from the hospital for 10 days last year.

The hospital, whose most famous inmate is the Moors murderer, Ian Brady, had not passed on the information to the Department of Health - even after a "substantial" amount of pornography had been discovered in the Personality Disorder Unit - and continued to maintain that press reports were "unfounded".

Mr Daggett said large quantities of pornographic videos were found on the premises and some patients were able to amass large sums in their bank accounts by copying and selling tapes. He also expressed concerns that a young girl was being put at risk by being brought into the ward, saying that she had been left unsupervised with a sex offender.

In his statement, Mr Dorrell said that last Friday he had instituted "urgent action to address the very serious situation which had been brought to my attention in the previous few days".

"The public is entitled to reassurance on two counts," Mr Dorrell said. "Firstly, Ashworth Hospital must be properly managed and must provide a high level of security for the benefit both of patients and of the public at large.

"Secondly, the hospital must also ensure that its patients receive a high standard of clinical care. The action that I announced on Friday is directed at the achievement of both these objectives."

Tessa Jowell, Labour's health spokeswoman, said the revelations exposed "the dreadful inadequacy of the monitoring systems which are supposed to ensure safety at high-security hospitals".

"The revelations are shocking," she said. "But as disturbing is the fact that this alleged trade in pornography and paedophile activity could have gone on undiscovered in a hospital that has already been subject to a recent fundamental and far-reaching inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper.