Mental patient freed to kill

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The Independent Online
Government policy towards the mentally ill came under renewed attack last night after independent inquiries had been ordered yesterday into how two former mental patients were left without supervision and allowed to kill three people in separate assaults.

In one case, a paranoid schizophrenic, who absconded on home leave from a mental hospital, went on to shoot a man dead and fatally stab a woman in a series of random attacks during a six-day spree of violence in south London. A consultant later admitted that it had been a "mistake" to release him from the hospital.

Wayne Hutchinson, 21, was convicted of manslaughter, at the Old Bailey, on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was also found guilty of wounding three people and attempted murder. Hutchinson was given leave from a mental hospital, despite having absconded before and being considered extremely aggressive and paranoid.

In the second case, Martin Mursell, 29, was jailed for life for murdering his stepfather and almost killing his mother in north London, despite her pleas to social and health services for help. He had a long history of admissions to mental hospitals and had been discharged against his will before the killing.

The twin convictions brought renewed condemnation from mental health charities. Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, the schizophrenia charity, said: "The people who should really be on trial are the health and social services, for failing people with serious mental illness.

"Mistakes are happening all the time, where people are allowed to leave hospitals and abscond, and they are being put in the community largely because of a lack of psychiatric beds." Community care could not work while the decline in mental hospital places continued, she said.

John Bevan, prosecuting in the Mursell case, said those in a position to help the family had failed to do so. Mary Collins, Mursell's mother, wept outside the court as she described trying to convince social services that her son was ill and needed help. Camden and Islington Health Authority announced an independent inquiry as the agencies most closely involved in Mursell's care apologised to the family.

In the Hutchinson case, an independent inquiry is to be held into the actions of the South Western Hospital, in Brixton, and West Lambeth Community Care Trust. The investigation will examine why he was released and allowed to remain free for more than eight weeks.

Erville Millar, the trust's chief executive, defended the hospital last night. "I'm confident all action taken by staff was appropriate and adhered to the Mental Health Act."

Cycle of neglect, page 5