Inquiry into doctors who freed 'ripper' before more killings

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The Independent Online

An inquiry was launched by health service managers last night into why a triple murderer known as the "Camden Ripper" was freed from a mental hospital weeks before his final killing spree.

Anthony Hardy strangled and mutilated two women for his sexual gratification after psychiatrists concluded he did not pose a danger to the public and released him from St Luke's Psychiatric Hospital in Muswell Hill, north London.

Ten months earlier detectives had decided not to charge the amateur pornographer with the murder of a prostitute found dead in his flat.

Yesterday Hardy, 54, from Camden, north London, changed his pleas to guilty at the start of his trial at the Old Bailey for the murder last year of Sally White, 31, Elizabeth Valad, 29, and Brigette MacClennan, 34.

The court was told that Hardy, who is divorced and has four children, had killed the women so that he could photograph their naked dead bodies.

Passing a life sentence, Mr Justice Keith told Hardy: "Only you know for sure how your victims met their deaths but the unspeakable indignities to which you subjected the bodies of your last two victims in order to satisfy your depraved and perverted needs are in no doubt."

News emerged after the trial that Scotland Yard had previously investigated Hardy as a suspect in three rapes and one indecent assault. There was insufficient evidence for prosecution.

The North London Strategic Health Authority announced last night that an independent inquiry would look at a mental health tribunal's decision to release Hardy.

The Old Bailey was told police were first alerted to Hardy in January last year when an upstairs neighbour complained that the 6ft 3in engineer had poured battery acid through the letter box in a row over a leak. A search of his home revealed a locked door, which Hardy claimed belonged to a lodger. Inside Hardy's coat was found a key, which led to the discovery of Miss White's body. She was naked with a towel over her head, had received a wound to the top of her head and had a bite mark on her thigh. Police arrested Hardy for murder.

They decided not to charge the alcoholic, who had a history of mental health problems, when a pathologist found Miss White had coronary heart disease and concluded she had died of a heart attack.

Instead, Hardy was found guilty of criminal damage on 12 March 2002 and was sentenced under the Mental Health Act. He was admitted to St Luke's, from which he was freed on 7 November. Hardy was then supervised by a protection panel of police, probation officers and social workers. He was not put under surveillance because psychiatrists judged him to be a "low to medium risk".

On 30 December last year a rough sleeper rummaging for food in a rubbish sack behind a pub in Camden found a pair of women's legs. In an industrial bin near by were two arms, a left leg and a lower torso, the remains of Miss Valad and Miss MacClennan. Police went to Hardy's flat in Royal College Street on New Year's Eve and found the front door ajar. The light was on but the flat empty. There was a smell coming from behind the door. Miss Valad's torso was inside. Police found scores of photographs of Miss Valad's and Miss MacClennan's bodies in different poses on Hardy's bed. One photograph showed Miss Valad's head covered with a devil's mask. Police realised that Miss White had not died of natural causes and charged Hardy with the murder of all three women.

The times of the women's deaths could not be pinpointed. Mobile phone records showed that Miss Valad had last used her phone on 19 December. The prostitute, who had once been a high-class call-girl who dressed in designer outfits and drove a £50,000 sports car, had become a crack addict and resorted to street walking. Miss MacClennan, who had two children, was last seen near Hardy's flat on Christmas Day. Richard Horwell, for the prosecution, said: "Sadly the stories of the last few months of each victim are depressingly similar. "She [Miss Valad], like Miss White, had become a crack addict and was financing that habit through street prostitution as was the third victim, Brigette MacClennan."

Detective Chief Inspector Ken Bell said outside court that the murder inquiry had been a "particularly harrowing" case. "Hardy is a manipulative, evil individual and, as the judge said, a badly depraved character."

The schizophrenia charity Sane said questions would be raised concerning the decision to release Hardy from psychiatric hospital.