Detention loophole set to be closed

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The Independent Online
A LOOPHOLE in the law which would have freed a man who killed his wife if he had remained on the run for 28 days is to be plugged by the Department of Health.

Ministers and officials have outlined plans to change the law following a public outcry over the case of James Rudman, who walked out of a secure mental unit and remained free for 27 days and 23 hours. If police had not tracked him to a house in Ireland with just one hour to spare, he would be free today and could not be rearrested.

John Bowis, Under-Secretary of State for Health, has circulated proposals for consultation aimed at tightening up Section 18 (4) of the Mental Health Act. He said: 'This provision, which allows a patient who is lawfully detained under the Mental Health Act to overturn its authority simply by walking out of the hospital and staying out for 28 days, has little to commend it.'

Concern was first raised when Rudman, 40, absconded from Towers hospital, Leicester, in a period of unescorted recreation. The family of his former wife, Susan, whom he stabbed to death in November 1991, were horrified when the Department of Health said it would be powerless to detain him after 28 days.

During his trial, at which he pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, Mr Justice McCulloch imposed a hospital order, which puts an emphasis on treatment, rather than a restriction order, which concentrates on detention. The judge had little option given that psychiatrists had testified that Rudman was mentally ill, so not a suitable candidate for prison, but not a danger to the public, so not a suitable candidate for a restriction order.