Ministers refuse to close secure hospital hijacked by paedophiles

THE DISASTROUS failure of a top-security mental hospital to control some of Britain's most dangerous criminals was revealed in a report yesterday that described how it became an outpost of the pornography industry.

Ashworth hospital on Merseyside, which houses 456 mentally disordered patients including the Moors murderer Ian Brady, became a centre for the copying and distribution of hard-core porn in which an eight-year-old girl was being "groomed for paedophile purposes", according to an inquiry.

Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, painted a chilling picture of an asylum taken over by its inmates, which left MPs shocked and dismayed. He described it as a "shameful story of confusion, indecision, mismanagement and incompetence". But he rejected the key recommendation in the 600-page report of the public inquiry team under a judge, Peter Fallon QC, to close down Ashworth, and by implication its sister hospitals, Broadmoor and Rampton, "at the earliest opportunity".

It emerged, however, that Ashworth could be broken into smaller segregated units. The inquiry report, which included 55 recommendations, is also likely to lead to sweeping changes in the law, including new powers to allow the Secretary of State to sack NHS staff, and tougher controls over patients with personality disorders.

The nine-month pounds 7.5m inquiry - triggered by allegations from Stephen Daggett, a convicted child abuser who absconded from the hospital in 1996 - found pornography was "widely available", security was "farcical" and the whole unit "deeply flawed". The inquiry said the hospital was dominated by "clever and manipulative" inmates.

Mr Fallon - who said the whole system was "rotten" - concluded: "The hospital's negative, defensive and blame- ridden culture is so deeply ingrained that we doubt even the most talented management team could turn it around. Ashworth hospital should close at the earliest opportunity."

He said: "The management culture of the hospital was dysfunctional. Senior managers were secretive, out of touch and totally unable to control this large institution. We therefore have no confidence in the ability of Ashworth Hospital to flourish under any management. It should close."

But Mr Dobson told the Commons that the institution's problems were not those of "bricks and mortar" but of management and gave the hospital four months to turn itself round.

The first heads to roll yesterday were Paul Lever, chairman of the Ashworth Hospital Authority, and Anne Marie Nelson, former chairman of the Special Hospitals Service Authority and chairman of the High Security Services Commissioning Board. Twenty three members of staff named in the report could be sacked or face professional disciplinary action. A former admiral in the Royal Navy, Ian Pirnie, chairman of the Morecambe Bay health authority, was appointed to take over the authority.

The most disturbing part of Mr Fallon's report described how an eight- year-old girl was smuggled into the hospital between 1994 and 1996 "weekend, after weekend" by her own father, a former inmate of Ashworth who is now prevented by a court order from contact with her.

"The child at the centre of the paedophile allegations was, in our view, being groomed for paedophile purposes. This is a disgraceful situation in what was supposed to be a hospital, and a high-security hospital at that," said the report.

Yesterday the Government secured a court order to protect the girl's anonymity. Mr Dobson told MPs: "I have checked. She seems to be doing pretty well. She is living a settled life."

The report found that drugs and pornographic videos were freely available; the father of the girl brought pornographic videos into the hospital; several patients had credit cards and were able to borrow large sums of money; and a machine for embossing share certificates was uncovered - leading to the uncovering of "scams and money-making ventures in the personality disorder unit". A confectionery and soft drinks stall for patients saw turnover in 1996 soar from pounds 50 a month to pounds 14,000.

Members of the inquiry team were clearly disappointed with Mr Dobson's refusal to close Ashworth. They have recommended that patients with personality disorders are treated in smaller separate units away from other mentally ill people and have advocated wide-scale reform of what they called a "rotten" system.

Asked how he felt about Mr Dobson's decision, Mr Fallon would only say: "Frankly, we disagree ... If Ashworth and other special hospitals continue to be structured and run as they currently are, we envisage the problems will return."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Support / IT Sales / Graduate Sales / Trainee

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has now arisen for a Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued growth an exce...

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager

£37000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has a track record...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable