Poor management blamed for Ashworth failures

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The Independent Online
A "LITANY of murder, attempted murder, pornography and paedophile activity" in Ashworth special hospital could have been avoided, an inquiry heard yesterday.

Poor leadership and management lay behind many of the problems at the hospital which houses some of Britain's most dangerous psychiatric patients, said David Preece, of the Prison Officers' Association.

"The majority of it could have been prevented through greater consultation and involvement with the staff - the staff that do the job," he claimed.

Mr Preece, POA branch chairman since 1993, was giving evidence at the public inquiry into the running of the Personality Disorder Unit at Ashworth. The inquiry was ordered in January 1997 by former secretary of state for health, Stephen Dorrell, after allegations of paedophilia, pornography and drug use on the unit.

Mr Preece said that Ashworth had not improved since the previous Blom- Cooper inquiry. "There have been major improvements, but there are still major problems," he said.

Pornography, and drug and alcohol misuse were not confined to the wards of the PDU. Similar allegations had been made among the mental health patients, he said.

The inquiry was told earlier that police investigated concerns over patients establishing contact with a paedophile ring operating outside the hospital.

Michael Bateson, a principal social worker at Ashworth since July 1995, spoke of fears that alleged paedophile activity "might be widening".

Mr Bateson said staff were aware that a former patient - the father of the girl, known as Child A, at the centre of the paedophilia allegations - was still in contact with former patients.

Mr Bateson said he first learned of the allegations arising from Child A's visits to paedophiles on the PDU's Lawrence Ward in October, 1996. Later he was ordered to oversee an investigation into her contact with the patients by the then chief executive Janice Miles. Mr Bateson said he saw no benefit for Child A in visiting the PDU.

Mr Bateson told how he contacted a social services department for further information on the child and said the authorities allowed the girl to continue living with her father, despite being aware of details of his previous convictions, including one for attempted rape.