Blunders helped psychopath kill: Woman to sue Home Office over daughter who was brutally murdered by a prisoner granted home leave

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The Independent Online
A MOTHER whose 21-year-old daughter was killed by a psychopath who absconded while on home leave from prison plans to sue the Home Office for negligence.

An investigation by the Independent on Sunday has established that the killer should never have been allowed home leave. And, contrary to Home Office rules, his name was not placed on the Police National Computer to alert police forces that he was wanted after he failed to return from his five- day break. No police force was searching for Keith Whitehouse until he brutally murdered Suzanne Bromiley at a cemetery in Brighton in October 1991.

Suzanne Bromiley was killed in what police described as a frenzied attack. Whitehouse raped her at knifepoint, tied a ligature round her neck, repeatedly smashed her face with a brick and thrust a knife into the top of her skull. Whitehouse had failed to return after being granted home leave from Risley prison near Warrington, Cheshire, where he had served just 12 months of a 30-month sentence for kidnapping a young woman at knifepoint.

In November 1992 he pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Suzanne, on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and was jailed for life. Psychiatric reports described him as a 'very dangerous, sadomasochistic, sexual psychopath'. Suzanne's mother, Dawn Bromiley, from Morden, south London, believes Whitehouse should never have been at liberty.

Home Office rules on home leave state that certain categories of prisoner are not eligible and these include 'prisoners who are . . . suffering from mental disorder'. When Whitehouse was convicted of the kidnap in June 1990 a psychiatrist's report for the court said he was an 'anti-social psychopath', which, under the 1983 Mental Health Act, is classed as a mental disorder.

Other factors were present in Whitehouse's case which the guidelines say should have acted as warning signs when analysing the level of risk. These included the fact that he was convicted of a violent offence; a psychiatric report described him as a 'recidivist' or persistent offender; and he had a history of drug abuse.

A spokesman for the Prison Service said the prison governor filled in a form reporting that Whitehouse had absconded and sent it to the National Identification Bureau at New Scotland Yard. His name should then have been placed on the Police National Computer, he said. However, a Scotland Yard spokesman said: 'Details of absconders should be given to the local police to enter on the Police National Computer, not to the Metropolitan police unless it is in the Met area. If something hasn't been done it is not the Met.' The prison spokesman admitted that a prisoner classified as suffering from a mental disorder was 'ineligible' for home leave but that the governor also has to take into account other reports.

Rape, even murder, may have been in the mind of Whitehouse when he kidnapped a young woman at knifepoint and dragged her to a canal bank in Birmingham in November 1989.

Detectives heading the murder hunt when Suzanne Bromiley was killed two years later were struck by the similarities in the cases, in particular two unusual aspects of the killer's behaviour - he vomited after each attack and confessed to police almost immediately.

The Birmingham kidnap victim, described in court only as Miss Blake, certainly believed she was going to be raped, according to Richard Camden Pratt QC, the prosecuting counsel in the Bromiley manslaughter case who described her terrifying ordeal.

'Miss Blake left her home address at twenty to nine in the evening to walk to a public house where she worked. She walked along the pathway and became aware that the defendant was behind her. He suddenly jumped in front of her and pulled out a large kitchen knife, pointed it in the direction of her face only a few inches from her and said: 'Don't scream.' She was terrified and told him to take her money if that is what he wanted. But he said: 'Get down the bank and don't scream.' He then put (the knife) to her shoulder and pushed her down to the canal towpath. He grabbed hold of her and pulled her along.

Only quick thinking by Miss Blake saved her. She talked to Whitehouse to calm him down and gave him money.

In June 1990 Whitehouse was sentenced to a total of 30 months for assault with intent to rob, kidnap and possession of an offensive weapon. A psychiatric report for the court by a Dr Hashmi described Whitehouse as a 'recidivist' or persistent offender, and 'an anti- social psychopath' but 'not psychiatrically ill'. A second psychiatric report said he was not mentally ill.

(The distinction between the two conditions is confusing but important. Dr Nigel Eastman, a forensic psychiatrist, explains that a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, can strike a normal person suddenly; a psychopath has a long-

standing personality disorder which may or may not be treatable. Being diagnosed a psychopath is classed under the 1983 Mental Health Act as suffering from a mental disorder. 'Someone can be diagnosed as both a psychopath and not mentally ill but they are mentally disordered,' Dr Eastman said.)

Despite the fact that Whitehouse was classed as suffering from a mental disorder he was first granted two days' home leave from Risley prison near Warrington in Cheshire in January 1991.

The violent offence for which he was imprisoned, a history of drug abuse and a string of convictions for burglary, should also have set alarm bells ringing. Although Whitehouse he returned from his first home leave, six months later, he failed to do so. This time, on 6 June, Whitehouse was allowed out for five days ostensibly to visit his mother in the North and then his girlfriend.

He never returned to prison. After apparently visiting his girlfriend he went to Brighton went to Brighton where he visited a day centre for the homeless and unemployed.

This is where, in October 1991, he met Suzanne Bromiley, who had just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital where she had been treated after suffering a nervous breakdown in December 1990.

Suzanne had left her home in Brighton after a family row in August 1989, and despite desperate searches for her, Dawn Bromiley never saw her daughter alive again.

After her discharge from hospital, Suzanne went to the day centre where she met Whitehouse. Mr Camden Pratt, prosecuting, later described Suzanne's last movements. 'She, with the defendant, had gone to the flat of a gentleman. At that flat Miss Bromiley was talking of problems with her boyfriend and the defendant was talking of having taken some magic mushrooms. It appeared they went off together. They were together for a considerable period of time, in the course of which the murder was committed.' The body was found three and a half weeks later, in a small clearing. She was identified only by her dental records. A post mortem examination found traces of alcohol, cannabis and magic mushrooms - which contained an hallucinogenic drug - in her stomach.

By questioning Suzanne's friends, Sussex police soon discovered Whitehouse. Four days after the body was found, Whitehouse was arrested when the police traced him through Department of Social Security records to a squat in London. The ease with which the police were able to find Whitehouse, once they knew to look for him, suggests that had his name gone on the National Police Computer after he absconded, he would have been caught sooner and Suzanne might still be alive. Whitehouse confessed to the killing almost immediately.

The killing of Suzanne Bromiley by a prisoner granted home leave was not an isolated case. Last July Malcolm Smith, a rapist who murdered a barmaid in Bournemouth after being granted home leave, was jailed for life. The officer in charge of the murder hunt called for changes in the system to prevent such dangerous prisoners being allowed out on leave. Since then the Prison Service has conducted a review and is due to make recommendations to the Home Office within a month.

A Tory peer, Lord Boyd- Carpenter, who has called for statistics on how many offences are committed by prisoners who have been granted home leave, is to take up Mrs Bromiley's case to find out why Whitehouse was allowed out and not brought back. He said: 'What I find disturbing is this habit of releasing on home leave people who on the face of it are dangerous.'

Suzanne's mother, Dawn Bromiley, is still tormented by nightmares in which she has taken her daughter's place. But she is also angry, with a system that released a dangerous psychopath and then left him on the loose for four and a half months. 'It is a tragedy that several people have had to die before the authorities have realised the system has to be changed. I hope that no other families have to suffer as I have done before any effective changes are made.'

(Photograph omitted)