Agency seeks to tackle cycle of care and prison: Heather Mills reports on help in the community for mentally ill offenders

PETER BARNES'S arms bear the burn scars of the cigarette ends that he used to rid himself of tattoos. The effects of drink and misery anaesthetised the pain.

He is now in a special hostel in north London which is helping him deal with the drink and mental health problems that have blighted his life. In two weeks of treatment and care, he is already talking more positively about life and less about suicide.

But his route to the hostel has been a long one. At 12 he put himself into council care to escape beatings, rows and abuse at home. While in a children's home he started playing truant and offending - car crime, theft and glue- sniffing. It was a decline into a cycle of care, courts, prisons and living rough on the streets 'drinking and wasting my life' - through what has become known as a 'revolving door'.

It is in order to ensure that more people such as Peter stay out of jail and receive care in the community, that a new organisation was launched yesterday. The Revolving Doors Agency plans to break the cycle of homelessness, deteriorating mental health and imprisonment which denies mentally ill people essential health care.

Research indicates that up to one-third of the country's prison population of 42,800 suffer from psychiatric problems. Working with the police, the agency will help to identify the mentally ill, seek to expand court psychiatric schemes and try to find housing for homeless offenders with mental health problems. It will identify and form links with voluntary projects and social services to co- ordinate policy and care. While initially based in central London, the long-term aim is to go national.

Launching the agency, to be funded by ITV Telethon and other trusts, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, said: 'Homelessness can be a significant factor among people seen by schemes aiming to divert mentally disordered patients from the criminal justice system to health and social care . . . It is important that a range of services is available so that they are not remanded in custody solely because they have nowhere to live.'

She does not have to tell Peter. It was a remand into Brixton on a charge of criminal damage - breaking into a squat - that finally sent him over the top. Less than a year earlier, his brother Sean had killed himself while on remand in Hull prison. Peter was in danger of doing the same.

The next day a place was found for him at Wytham Hall, a registered charity in Paddington, west London, where he is now.

'It's pretty hard to accept that you need help from psychiatrists and doctors - you know, that you have mental problems,' he said.

'But when my brother committed suicide, he was talking to himself and laughing at weird things. Yet he wouldn't see a psychiatrist. That's the main reason I am determined to do for myself what he failed to do for himself.'

It was his brother's death, in fact, which led to Peter's own deterioration in mental health. 'I just started drinking anything I could get hold of to get it out of my head. My brother's death showed me how vulnerable I was . . . It made me paranoid. I started feeling suicidal.' Now in the hostel, he says: 'I've grown up a lot recently. I know I am only 22 but I feel like I'm 60. Maybe, hopefully one day I can get to like myself.' Those caring for Peter believe that he might. But, ironically, as their 16-bed hostel is being held up as a model of care in the community, a question mark hangs over its future because of lack of funding.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before